- Graham Hays, espnW.com
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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As much fun as it is to be on hand when a team cuts down the nets and celebrate a championship amidst the glitter and glitterati of a Final Four, it's also a little like watching a band get enshrined at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
You're really just paying tribute to all the magic that happened somewhere else.
Thursday night the Smith Center on the campus of George Washington, a gym thousands of seats and of even more units of character removed from the St. Pete Times Forum, Gund Arena, TD Banknorth Garden or any other championship site, was somewhere else.
Maybe No. 22 George Washington seizes the momentum of its 66-65 overtime win against No. 10 Texas A&M and goes on a roll that carries the Colonials beyond even last season's Sweet 16 run. Maybe not. Maybe senior guard Sarah-Jo Lawrence goes on her own run and unseats teammate Kim Beck as Atlantic 10 Player of the Year favorite. Maybe not.
It doesn't really matter.
Despite postseason implications for both teams, the story Thursday quickly became less about the past and future than about simply enjoying 42 minutes of individual achievement for Lawrence. With Jessica Adair, George Washington's leading scorer and rebounder, out of the lineup with a concussion, Lawrence put up a career-high 29 points and seven rebounds, including five offensive rebounds. And with her team down three points with less than five seconds to play in regulation despite her heroics to that point, Lawrence knocked down her first and only 3-point attempt of the night to tie the score.
"This is a textbook game for Lawrence," Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said afterward. "Let's just give her credit. She did everything."
Texas A&M is one of the nation's best defensive teams under the tutelage of Blair and associate coach Vic Schaefer, who actually coached Lawrence over the summer on the Jones Cup national team. The Aggies entered the game forcing more than 24 turnovers per contest and limiting opponents to 38 percent shooting. But when they came out Thursday with typically aggressive man-to-man pressure against a team that hasn't shot the ball well from behind the arc all season, Lawrence had an answer. She scored George Washington's first five points and had 15 points on 7-for-11 shooting by halftime.
She didn't look like the quickest player or the strongest player on the court, but time and again she beat lightning-fast defenders like A'Quonesia Franklin and Danielle Gant off the dribble and took on contact to finish with a variety of moves inside.
"With their kind of pressure, it's hard to just run your offense and pass along the perimeter," Lawrence said. "You need to go north-south, attack the basket. You can't beat it going east-west, just passing it around, so I knew we had to attack with Jess out."
The game wasn't a battle for the ages and even Lawrence's performance maight not rate with the season's best by the time we all gather in Tampa in April. But for one night in December, it was a heck of a good show for those lucky enough to be on hand.
Texas A&M left the nation's capital nursing the disappointment of the season's second loss, but it was hardly an empty trip across the country after three days in D.C.
It pays to have friends in high places, which is how the Aggies ended up not only touring the Pentagon, courtesy of Secretary of Defense and former Texas A&M president Robert Gates, but getting an impromptu pep talk at the White House from President Bush.
Originally expecting just a standard tour of the White House and possible photo op with Bush, the team ended up getting what Blair described as about a five-minute speech from the heart by the Commander in Chief on making the most of the opportunities of youth.
Politics and policies aside, non-partisan personal attention from anyone who occupies the desk in the Oval Office isn't a memory many student-athletes can claim.
Nor, for that matter, is personal attention from the President's physician, but that's what La Toya Micheaux received after nearly fainting during the White House visit. Micheaux was less overcome by the surrounding than the effects of a concussion suffered earlier in the season -- and accentuated by not eating breakfast, according to Blair. A starter in seven games this season, Micheaux was limited to just five minutes Thursday.
Don't expect too many more games between the Aggies and Colonials. The friendship between Blair and George Washington coach Joe McKeown is well known. But Blair said after next season's return game in College Station, the two foes will only compete against each other on the golf course unless the NCAA Tournament brings them together.
"It's too hard," Blair said. "We talk all the time; we don't need to be playing each other."
True to form, more than an hour after Thursday's game, long after Texas A&M's bus had departed for the hotel and the Smith Center was all but empty, Blair and McKeown sat outside the deserted interview room and talked. Two old friends at the holidays.