Capital's Key Key Dudley (1) and Tanija Spencer fight for a rebound with George Washington's Kayla Stewart (left) in Monday's game.
Capital rolled into Monday night's game against George Washington with a lot of momentum, having already knocked off Class AAA No. 8 Huntington to open the season.
That momentum carried the Cougars early, but in the end the height of No. 3 GW proved too much as the Patriots overcame an early deficit to take a 61-44 win at Capital.
The Cougars finished with a rough 2-17 record last season but generated some buzz after knocking off the Highlanders on the road. In fact, the buzz was so loud GW coach Jamie LaMaster could hear.
"It was a wake-up call to my kids when they looked in the paper and saw [Capital] beat Huntington by [five], and it grabbed my attention real quick as well," LaMaster said. "We had played Huntington in fall ball and summer tournaments and we know that program and what they've done. Then to come over here and face a Capital program that beat them - I hope we learned a lesson about respecting opponents and valuing the basketball."
Taking care of the ball was a thorn in George Washington's side all night as the Patriots turned the ball over 20 times. But the inside force of senior Alexa Peoples as well as the inside-outside game of Kelli Harrison was enough to overcome mistakes.
Harrison had a monster game, recording 21 points and 16 rebounds, and Peoples tallied 19 points and 11 rebounds.
"We knew they weren't very strong in the post, but they are good rebounders," Harrison said. "But me and Alexa Peoples kind of figured it out."
Early on, the pressure of Capital led to plenty of fast breaks and took the Patriots out of their game a little bit. Peoples attempted just one shot in the first quarter and Capital led 16-11 after the opening eight minutes.
But about midway through the second quarter, GW went on an 11-0 run to claim a 26-20 lead and the Patriots never trailed again.
"We came out with the same energy we played with down in Huntington," Capital coach B.J. Calabrese said. "Then you could kind of just tell there was a stretch there around three-minute mark of the second quarter where a couple of things didn't go our way, and we got our head down. We left a couple of shooters open, they hit a couple of shots. Next thing you know we turn it over a couple of times then you're down five at the half."
The Cougars cut it the deficit to one to open the third quarter, but senior guard Tanijia Spencer picked up her fourth foul early in the frame and the Patriots ran the lead back out on the strength of a 13-3 spurt.
"Capital is by far the most athletic team I've scouted or seen to this point," LaMaster said. "They gave us a lot of trouble because although we're bigger inside, they're quicker across the floor. If you try to make that diagonal pass or make the first pass and go to the second one, they jump the lane and take it and it's a layup right now.
"You hope your guards can handle what pressure they put on you and take good care of the ball and value possessions and then play half-court basketball both offensively and defensively because we can't play at that tempo for 32 minutes. I think when we did settle in and play, that's when we played our best basketball tonight and got the ball inside."
While GW seems poised to make another legitimate run toward the state tournament after a 3-0 start, the wild card in the Kanawha Valley may be the Cougars as Capital has displayed raw talent and potential. Those are two things Calabrese hopes he can harness as the season progresses.
"It's really tough for me to tell," Calabrese said when asked how much his squad had improved since last season. "I think we're greatly improved over last year.
"Everyone tells me we're greatly improved over last year. But we're just going to have to find out in the long run where we're at. We'll find out over the next two weeks with some teams we should be successful with. Time will tell."
Spencer led the Cougars with 12 points, and Key Key Dudley chipped in 11.
Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948 or firstname.lastname@example.org