Last weekend’s press conference following a season-ending loss to Connecticut was a confusing amalgam of emotions for the Georgetown women’s basketball team.
Senior guard Monica McNutt remained poised despite narrowly losing her final game as a collegian, while junior forward Tia Magee struggled to hold back tears. Head Coach Terri Williams-Flournoy discussed how proud she was of her team while McNutt calmly insisted that the Lady Hoyas should have made the Elite Eight.
In many ways, the press conference seemed to reflect Georgetown’s roller-coaster season. The Lady Hoyas began the year ranked No. 13 in the nation and hoped to build on their surprising success of 2009-10, a season in which freshman phenom Sugar Rodgers sparked a 16-game win streak and a national ranking for the previously obscure Georgetown program.
“We were no longer the underdog this year. We had the year that we had last year, we came out and everybody knew what we were going to do,” Williams-Flournoy said. “It was no longer, ‘Oh, by the way, that’s Georgetown.’ We put our program in the top 25 and we stayed in the top 25 all year long. I’m very proud of my young ladies, and we’ll never be the underdog ever again.”
A second-round exit in last year’s NCAA tournament left the Lady Hoyas hungry for more this year, and the early season left no doubt about their legitimacy. In only its second game, Georgetown took out No. 21 Maryland for the first time in school history. The Lady Hoyas shocked No. 4 Tennessee in the championship of the Paradise Jam tournament two weeks later.
The Blue and Gray climbed as high as No. 11 in the rankings, but their long Big East winning streaks were punctuated by bad losses — by 17 points at Rutgers, 22 at Notre Dame and 25 at DePaul — as the team struggled with consistency all year. Things looked particularly ugly at the end of the regular season, when Georgetown lost four of five games and couldn’t seem to find an offensive groove.
However, another early tournament exit was not in the Lady Hoyas’ plans. Georgetown ripped through the middle of the Philadelphia bracket as a No. 5 seed, easily dispatching 12th-seeded Princeton before embarrassing fourth-seeded Maryland on the Terrapins’ home court. The resulting Sweet 16 berth was only the second in school history.
Although the tournament run came as a surprise to many both on and off the Hilltop, the Blue and Gray followed a tried-and-true formula for postseason success. They were a guard-heavy, pressing team with the ability to get hot from long range — sound familiar, Virginia Commonwealth?
But while we still don’t know how far the Rams’ Cinderella run will go on the men’s side, their story will undoubtedly end on a happier note than that of the Lady Hoyas. Georgetown gave No. 1 Connecticut all it could handle and led by as many as seven points in the second half, but a late cold streak ultimately doomed hopes of a Blue and Gray upset.
“This is probably one of the best games that I’ve seen my players play in a long time,” Williams-Flournoy said after the UConn game. “It was just one small segment in there where we didn’t score and Connecticut continued to score, and we didn’t get the stops that we needed to get. I think that little segment right there cost us the game.”
All in all, though, this season will be defined by more than a late collapse against the best team in the nation. In two short years, Georgetown has gone from mediocrity to history, from watching March Madness at home to nearly making the Elite Eight. With Williams-Flournoy’s strategy, McNutt’s leadership and a little help from Rodgers, the entire culture of Georgetown women’s basketball has changed.
“This program has come such a long way,” McNutt said. “These girls have worked their butts off. These coaches have coached their butts off. They go out, they convince kids to come to humble little McDonough Gymnasium, get in there and work, and we’re going to be something special.”
The team will almost certainly make more noise next year, with four of five starters returning and Rodgers — named an honorable mention All-American Wednesday — poised to once again dominate the Big East. Junior point guard Rubylee Wright played some of her best basketball at the end of the year and set a single-season school record in assists. Magee and junior forward Adria Crawford improved throughout the season and pose matchup problems for most other post players.
As for McNutt? The Maryland native came to the Hilltop as a rookie on a forgettable team and left as the unquestioned leader of a national power. While her basketball career ended without a national championship trophy, she has reason to be proud.
“Monica McNutt, she’s one of the best things I’ve ever had in my life,” Magee said. “She’s got a heart bigger than I’ve ever seen. … She’s been such an inspiration to me. I talked to my assistant coaches earlier in the year and told them, ‘I want to be like Monica next year. I want to be her. I want to be able to lead the team in the way that she has.'”
McNutt will clearly be missed next year, but her impact on Georgetown basketball will be felt for years to come. We are witnessing a program on the rise, and the history books will likely point to this year’s postseason run as Georgetown’s coming-out party on the national scene.