Hibbert Is Front -- and Center
The confrontation between Georgetown's Roy Hibbert and Pittsburgh's Aaron Gray should have been a classic encounter, a collision of 7-footers, two of the biggest men in college basketball. But by the end of the Big East final, Hibbert had so dominated Gray you wondered if he was going to make him wash his car and cook his dinner -- except Gray would have dropped the hose or burned the sauce.
Hibbert and Gray met under ideal conditions: in an amped-up Madison Square Garden, with NCAA implications on the line, and perhaps their individual NBA draft status at stake as well. They were towering adversaries whose teams had jockeyed back and forth all season, without much separating them. But the Hoyas' 65-42 victory was incontestable, and so was Hibbert's performance. The Hoyas completed a clean sweep of both the season and tournament titles, and Hibbert so thoroughly separated himself from Gray, with 18 points to Gray's three (on 1-for-13 shooting), that you wondered if he hasn't gotten the upper hand for good.
"They really beat us in every aspect of the game," Pittsburgh Coach Jamie Dixon said.
All week, anticipation had ratcheted for another clash between the 7-foot Gray and the 7-2 Hibbert, the two titans of the league. In a pair of regular season meetings, they played to a virtual stalemate as their teams split. In the first game, at Pittsburgh on Jan. 13, each was steady and unspectacular: Hibbert with 10 points and three rebounds in 30 minutes and Gray with 11 points and four rebounds in 34 minutes.
On Feb. 24, they met on Georgetown's home court with first place in the conference on the line. But Gray, hobbled by a sprained ankle, hadn't practiced all week and didn't start. When he finally jogged onto the floor, Hibbert was energized.
"I really wanted him to play," Hibbert said. Gray expressly sought out Hibbert as he moved downcourt. "I missed you, Big Roy," he said.
Hibbert replied, "I missed you, too."
The Hoyas won that one, 61-53, but it still didn't settle much in the way of their personal duel. Gray played 21 minutes in his bad ankle and had 10 points and six rebounds, while Hibbert had 12 points and five rebounds in 28 minutes.
"I can't wait to play him again," Hibbert said afterward.
Part of the intrigue in the matchup lay in the fact that both men have struggled over their careers with ungainliness and yet high expectations based on their heights. Big players tend to mature later, and until they get control of their limbs, they hear all kinds of insults. John Thompson the elder referred to Hibbert as "Big Stiff" throughout his freshman year.