CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- George Washington hasn't much resembled the team that has advanced to the Class AAA state tournament semifinals the past two seasons until Friday.Senior guard Rachel Ward scored 24 points as the host Patriots seemed, at least for one night, a smooth operation in dispatching St. Albans 61-36. A crowd of about 200 attended the Class AAA Mountain State Athletic Conference matchup.GW (6-3), which was No. 8 in this week's Associated Press poll, shot its way past the Red Dragons (5-5) in its best opening half of the year, canning 72.7 percent (16 of 22) from the field for a 20-point lead (41-21) at halftime."We just knew we had to work on our game and work on our scoring,'' said Ward, who netted 16 of her 24 points in the first 16 minutes and was 5 of 7 from 3-point range."We had to work on playing hard the entire game and not just the first half. We've just got to keep working hard at it. We had the potential to be playing like this the entire year, but we're just all getting in our rhythm, working with our team chemistry and we're just really clicking right now.''GW went ahead 17-10 after the first quarter then turned it on in the second period behind Ward's 12 points, punctuated by a 3 just before the half ended for a 24-11 edge in the quarter and a 41-21 advantage at intermission.The Patriots have been searching for that spark after losses to Class AA No. 2 Bridgeport and AAA No. 6 Huntington. With a change in offensive philosophy to more motion and screening, they may have found the formula.GW had its best shooting performance of the season, hitting 54.6 percent (24 of 44) and 70 percent (7 of 10) from 3-point range."I think it's a mental approach,'' said GW coach Jamie LaMaster. "I thought their energy was high and I really addressed that after the second half of the Huntington game [a 69-50 loss Tuesday]. We got off to a good start [against St. Albans], which helped.
"We just kept talking about eliminating this negative body language, showing of emotions on the floor and stressing that we all wear a Patriot jersey. I think I've had some internal chemistry problem and I don't have a drill for that. Just working through that.''To be sure, there is still work to do for the Patriots, who only netted 20 points in the second half on 34.8 percent shooting (8 of 23). To be fair, though, GW dealt with foul trouble for the second straight game, along with illness and injury during the victory over SA."I think we'll start playing like this the entire game, not just in spurts or quarters,'' Ward said.Breanna Propst's 14 points and nine rebounds paced SA, but she was the only Red Dragon in double figures. Lexi Cooper added nine points and three steals and Cameron Davis came off the bench for six points and four boards for St. Albans."We've really been playing pretty good,'' said SA coach Scott James, whose team had won two straight but saw the Dragons make only 25 percent (9 of 36) of their shots. "Now it obviously hasn't been against competition that we played tonight but still yet I was very disappointed."We were not as mentally tough as GW. We let Rachel hit a couple of shots early on and she gained her confidence. I still believe in this team that by the end of the year, if we keep working, coming together and gaining in our confidence and mental toughness, we're going to be a pretty good basketball team.''
LaMaster will see if his squad is taking to heart the changes next week with four games, including a showdown with No. 3 Princeton, on the schedule."That'll be telling if we're on the right path,'' said the GW coach. "Now what I'm looking for, I need to see some consistency over a period of time. Not these dramatic shifts. When are we going to find that balance?''Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at email@example.com or 304-348-4811.