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Hoyas Aim to Turn the Page
With 'First Phase' Over, Thompson Focuses on Improvement

By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 5, 2006

The Georgetown men's basketball team has completed what Coach John Thompson III referred to as "the first phase of our pre-league schedule." It has not been smooth for the Hoyas, who have looked uncertain on offense and have lost three games, including two at home to unranked opponents.

Following back-to-back losses to Oregon and Duke, the Hoyas (4-3) dropped out of both national polls yesterday; they received only five points in the coaches' poll, a week after getting 179 (good for 23rd). Georgetown was ranked eighth in the Associated Press preseason poll.

"We have to keep improving and keep working toward conference play," Thompson said after the 61-52 loss at Duke on Saturday. "We haven't had the easiest schedule, and we haven't had as much success as we would've liked, but as long as we keep improving moving toward league play, we'll be okay."

Georgetown has completed the meaty part of its nonconference schedule, save for a trip to Michigan on Dec. 30. Over the next three weeks, the Hoyas play five games at home against teams that are a combined 16-22. Tonight, Georgetown will host James Madison (2-4) at Verizon Center.

The Hoyas have stayed relatively healthy during Thompson's three seasons as head coach. But freshman guard Jeremiah Rivers severely sprained his right ankle with 2 minutes 16 seconds left in Saturday's game when he landed awkwardly on teammate Jonathan Wallace's leg after trying to block a shot. Rivers was unable to put any pressure on his foot as he was helped off the floor. Thompson said on Monday night that Rivers is "day-to-day."

Rivers's role had been slowly growing over the past four games, and he had one of his best performances at Duke, scoring six points in 21 minutes -- both career highs. He gave the Hoyas another capable ballhandler, as well as a bigger (6 feet 4, 205 pounds), more physical perimeter defender.

An extended absence by Rivers would put extra pressure on an already thin back court. Wallace and sophomore Jessie Sapp are among the team leaders in minutes played, and they, along with Rivers, are the only true guards on the roster. Junior Tyler Crawford, a 6-3 swingman, is still recovering from a bout of strep throat that caused him to be hospitalized briefly. He lost nearly 25 pounds while sick, according to Thompson, and is still trying to rebuild his strength and stamina. Crawford started the season opener but has played only one minute since then.

At the start of the season, most of the questions surrounding the Hoyas centered on their guard play and their overall three-point shooting. But Wallace (11.4 points) and Sapp (10 points, 3.1 assists) have been the Hoyas' most consistent performers so far. Wallace essentially kept Georgetown in the game against Oregon with his drives to the basket, and Sapp was one of the catalysts behind the Hoyas' sharp first half against the Blue Devils.

"He's confident in himself and talented," Thompson said of Sapp, who led the Hoyas with 13 points against Duke. "Once we can take that confidence and couple it with experience, and then knowing when to do what he does and when not to do what he does -- I think that kid plays with a lot of heart. . . . He's growing and he's learning, and we all are."

Three-point shooting remains a concern. In Thompson's first two seasons at Georgetown, the Hoyas made an average of 7.3 three-point shots a game (on 36 percent shooting); this season, they are averaging 4.9 three-pointers per game (on 30.6 percent shooting). In their past two losses, Georgetown is shooting just 13 percent (3 for 23) from beyond the three-point line. Wallace, the Hoyas' best long-range shooter, has made just two of his past 10 three-point attempts.

"We hate to lose. Losing is not a good thing for us," junior forward Jeff Green said after scoring eight points against Duke. "We just have to look back at this game and take the mistakes that we made and try not to make them again."

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