We agree. Even with Louisville in a three-game slide after Georgetown’s 53-51 win Saturday, the usually stoic Thompson was entitled to smile after beating a team that was ranked No. 1 just last weekend. The Hoyas displayed the type of toughness — both physical and mental — missing from too many of their performances during the first few games of their Big East schedule.
The Hoyas rebounded and played defense as if the Cardinals had personally challenged them on every possession. Against an exceptionally talented opponent — the Cardinals’ back court of Peyton Siva and Russ Smith is among the nation’s best — Georgetown again showed it’s capable of playing at a much higher level. The Hoyas are finally starting to put something together with their most important stretch of the regular season ahead.
That’s exactly the sort of thing Thompson likes. After a bad start in conference play (opening 0-2 in the Big East qualifies), the Hoyas have won four of five since second-leading scorer and rebounder Greg Whittington was declared academically ineligible. “We might have been 5-0 with him,” Thompson said without any hint of playfulness in his voice.
Still, Thompson is encouraged about the significant turnaround. For the Hoyas, it’s all about the group. And with 11 conference games remaining, the group is finding a way to win.
“We’re getting better. We’re progressing,” Thompson said. “Our guys are doing a better job of helping each other — particularly at the defensive end.”
The final stat book wasn’t needed for confirmation. The Hoyas’ efforts on defense were clear throughout the game Saturday.
Georgetown hounded Louisville on the perimeter and swarmed its post players. The result? The Cardinals shot 34.8 percent from the field and 27.3 percent on three-point attempts. As good as Georgetown was collectively, point guard Markel Starks stood out individually. He had the best showing against the toughest competition.
Siva, one of the fastest point guards in college basketball, is a matchup nightmare for most teams. Louisville Coach Rick Pitino also calls many designed plays for Siva, so whomever guards Siva has to fight through a variety of screens if they want to stick with him. Starks eagerly accepted the assignment.
“You don’t want to make it mano y mano,” Starks said, “but at some point, you’ve got to take pride in playing defense.”
Starks didn’t pound his chest. He simply pitched a shutout: Siva, who entered averaging 11.5 points, failed to score. Granted, he only played 23 minutes because of foul trouble. But everywhere Siva went, Starks followed.
“Fighting over those ball screens and staying in front of their guards . . . it’s hard work,” Thompson observed. “He did that all” game.