Hoyas Have Been Handling With Care

By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 1, 2007

As soon as Georgetown Coach John Thompson III started talking about how the Hoyas have been doing a better job of taking care of the basketball, he wanted to stop.

"I don't want to talk about it too much, because I don't want to jinx it," said Thompson, whose team plays St. John's tonight at Madison Square Garden.

Superstition aside, in their past two games combined, the Hoyas have committed just 12 turnovers, a marked improvement for a team that had been careless with the ball earlier in the season. In its 82-67 win over Cincinnati on Saturday, Georgetown had only five turnovers, its lowest total ever in a Big East game.

Thompson, like most coaches, stresses the importance of valuing every possession. The Hoyas -- who shoot well, are balanced offensively and can control the pace of the game -- are especially difficult to beat when they take care of the ball.

The Hoyas began the week ranked second in the nation in field goal shooting (52.3 percent). Four players are averaging 10 points or more in conference games, and a different player has led the Hoyas in scoring in each of the past five games. Junior center Roy Hibbert is shooting 71 percent, which would lead the nation if he had made enough shots to qualify (he is averaging 4.9 per game, and the NCAA requires a minimum of five).

As Thompson said, "We feel like if we can come down and get a shot, we're going to be okay."

"We have that confidence with our offense, that everyone can score," sophomore guard Jessie Sapp said. "Once we control the ball and get the offense going, there are shots everywhere. We work on different options out of it, we trust people with the ball and we look for them to make shots."

Georgetown (15-5, 5-2 Big East) averaged 16.4 turnovers in its first five Big East games, and the miscues weren't coming from just the guards. The Hoyas committed a season-high 22 turnovers in their 56-52 loss to Villanova on Jan. 8; according to Thompson, nine of them came as they unsuccessfully tried to feed the ball into the post (Hibbert did not have a single field goal attempt).

Against Seton Hall on Jan. 19, Georgetown committed 21 turnovers in a 74-58 win. The Pirates rank third in the country in steals per game (10.9), and quick sophomore guard Paul Gause (five steals against the Hoyas) is very good at getting his hands on the ball and forcing mistakes. But six of Georgetown's first 11 turnovers against Seton Hall came on traveling violations.

Part of the improvement stems from the increased comfort the players have with each other at this point of the season; they're making better decisions. But the Hoyas also have made a conscious effort in practice. They've worked on becoming better passers and better receivers, as well as on putting themselves in a position to make better passes. Sapp, who has 63 assists and 36 turnovers this season, said the players try to be extra aggressive on defense in practice, so that no opponent will be able to compare.

The Hoyas will try to continue the trend against the Red Storm, which has won its past two home games, against Syracuse and No. 21 Notre Dame.

"We've had a two-game stretch; let's not pretend we've solved the ills of the world," Thompson said. "But I do think that the guys, in every aspect, are cognizant and we're trying to be better."

Notes: St. John's senior guard Daryll Hill will miss the next four to six weeks to rehabilitate his surgically repaired left knee, Coach Norm Roberts announced yesterday. Hill once was one of the most dynamic scorers in the conference until he was slowed by knee injuries; this season, he was averaging 6.3 points as the Red Storm's sixth man. . . .

Hibbert was named the Big East player of the week, the first Hoya to be so honored this season. He averaged 19 points and 7.5 rebounds in victories over DePaul and Cincinnati.

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