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Mike Wise

Hoyas Offer a Worthwhile Look

By Mike Wise
Friday, March 11, 2005; Page D10

NEW YORK

The game clock was waning, and they only needed two points to tie. Ten seconds. Eight.

Darrel Owens, the senior guard who 24 hours ago shot down Seton Hall, had a look from way beyond the arc. But he opted to pass. The ball wound up in the hands of Ashanti Cook, who moved inside the key, rose and released over Connecticut's front line, a high-arcing jump shot. Four seconds. Three.


Georgetown guard Ashanti Cook lets go of a shot over U-Conn.'s Marcus Williams during the closing seconds of their Big East quarterfinal game. (John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)

_____From The Post_____
Despite a late charge, Georgetown falls to Connecticut, 66-62.
Mike Wise: The Hoyas played well enough to deserve consideration from the selection committee.
_____Men's Basketball_____
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Men's College Basketball Section

Back iron.

Back to Georgetown. Back to Big East reality.

They had a chance, and there's not much more for which John Thompson III could ask. The Georgetown Hoyas, in a game they had no business being in, had the ball and momentum at Madison Square Garden. U-Conn. was quaking -- the No. 12 Huskies losing their poise and almost all of a nine-point lead in the final two minutes -- before the Hoyas succumbed, 66-62.

When Owens deposited a three-pointer on the left side with 40 seconds left, the Hoyas about fell over each other on their own bench.

The man who used to coach Georgetown was behind his son's players, watching his namesake nearly pull off a Big East tournament shocker. Indeed, Connecticut survived against a team it blew out by 19 points last week. It survived Thompson's Hoyas, who in those final, frantic seconds almost completed the end to "Hoosiers."

The Hoyas overcame the earmarks of a young team in a big game -- an unforced turnover in the back court, a missed free throw, the burning of 18 seconds off the shot clock when they desperately needed points. U-Conn. always seemed on the verge of pulling ahead by 15 or 20, but the Hoyas incredibly stuck around for the duration against a more talented team.

"It's disappointing, because you're right there," Thompson said. "We had a shot. . . . Good teams make you have bad luck. And they're a good team."

Dies, most likely, the hope for the school's first NCAA tournament bid since 2001. Dies the shot to represent the school in the Big East semifinals for the first time since 2000. But Georgetown took a team playing as well as anyone in the country to the wire. The Hoyas played well enough to deserve some consideration from the selection committee.

"We've played 28 basketball games against very good teams," U-Conn. Coach Jim Calhoun said afterward. "They shot the highest percentage against us, which is really, really sincerely a testament to them.

"I look throughout the country. People are always looking for tough teams to play as you try to take your matchups in the NCAA field. I would have to think, in what they've done, they would be very tough in the NCAA tournament. I would hope the committee looks at them very carefully."

Early on Thursday night, there was a noticeable disparity in size and talent. Late in the first half, U-Conn.'s Rudy Gay did not seem to have control of his body, but he managed to convert a reverse layup, sneaking the ball over the Georgetown defense just as he was stumbling toward the ground.

It was one those signature athletic plays that enraptured the Garden crowd. It made NBA general managers in attendance dream of the day when the 6-foot-8 forward from Baltimore leaves Connecticut for their league.

Gay, though he led U-Conn. with 17 points, is often the fourth- or fifth-best player for the Huskies. They did not advance because Calhoun is a better coach than Thompson. They advanced because of talent and depth, because Gay does not have to carry the load at 18 years old, like freshman Jeff Green, the Hoyas' most vital player and sometimes their only go-to option inside. Gay and Green were co-freshmen of the year in the Big East, but their roles are exceedingly different and emblematic of the difference between an established program and a rebuilding program.

And yet, the Hoyas were one jumper away from delirium, working their pass-and-cut Princeton offense, using all or most of the shot clock until they got the look they wanted. One of the more defining plays of Thompson's overachieving first year had to come with 4 minutes 47 seconds remaining.

His team was down nine points and had run 13 seconds off the shot clock. Not one Hoya was beating U-Conn. off the dribble. Inside points and layups were at a premium. The key was off limits for Georgetown for most of the game.

Out of that 30-second timeout emerged the prettiest play, a backdoor cut by Owens along the left baseline, a perfect bounce pass from Green, a reverse layup 12 seconds after summoning his team in a circle in front of the bench. It had a little of Pete Carril diagramming that backdoor cut when Princeton shocked UCLA about a decade ago. It was easy to forget U-Conn. dominated the Hoyas in Storrs, Conn., last week.

"We wanted to be better this week than we were last week," Thompson said. "We know that regardless of who we're playing, we can put ourselves in position to win. I mean, not only is that one of the best teams in the league, that's one of the best teams in the country playing the best ball."

Thompson has more than proved he can coach at this level after moving on from Princeton. The economy on offense -- no wasted dribbles and lots of moving and cutting -- nearly defied college basketball logic, that talent always overwhelms the system. Thompson will have to eventually recruit and sign players like Calhoun's if the program wants to come all the way back.

Yet on one, almost majestic night for Georgetown at the Garden, none of that mattered. The Hoyas had the ball, a chance, real hope for the first time in years.


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