By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 23, 2007
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., March 22 -- Georgetown already has beaten its East Region semifinal opponent once this season. But as the second-seeded Hoyas prepared to face sixth-seeded Vanderbilt on Friday night, they didn't watch the tape from that 86-70 victory back on Nov. 15.
"Not at all," sophomore guard Jessie Sapp said. "We know that they're a different team. We don't want to look at that tape and see something that we did back then, and it might not work this time. We honestly just prepared for what we know they've been doing lately."
The Hoyas, maybe better than most teams, understand the evolution a team can undergo over the course of a season. When Georgetown beat Vanderbilt in Nashville at the start of the season, the Hoyas were ranked eighth in the country. They then lost three of their next five games -- including one at home to Old Dominion -- and plummeted out of the national top 25. The Commodores, meantime, dropped two of their next three games, including a home loss to Furman.
Now, Georgetown (28-6) is one of the hottest teams left in the tournament, winner of 17 of its past 18 games. Vanderbilt (22-11) beat Kentucky twice and Florida once during the regular season, and then upset third-seeded Washington State in double overtime on Saturday to reach the round of 16 for the first time since 2004.
"Things have just come together that have led us to so much success," said Vanderbilt junior swingman Shan Foster, who is shooting 48.4 percent and averaging 19 points in the NCAA tournament. "We've always had great team chemistry, but there was a time when we lost to Furman and it was just a battle to survive."
Teams in the NCAA tournament often have to prepare for unfamiliar opponents, but the Hoyas and Commodores have played the past two seasons (Vanderbilt won in 2005-06). The Hoyas feel their experience in the Big East -- when they face teams with varying styles -- has helped them get ready for Friday's game.
"We've seen everything, and that helps a lot," Sapp said. "Once Coach says that they're like this team or that team, our mind immediately clicks to that. It's tough because he said that they're like a Notre Dame. We want to guard them how we guarded Notre Dame the first time. We want to guard them real tough and come out on the shooters, don't let them get a shot off, stop their penetration."
Both teams have put their own spin on the Princeton-style offense. Jeff Green, a 6-foot-9 forward, and Roy Hibbert, a 7-2 center, are the focal point for the Hoyas, and lead the team in scoring. Vanderbilt, on the other hand, starts 6-9 forward Ross Neltner and surrounds him with four guards who have each made at least 50 three-pointers this season.
"They run pretty much the same stuff we run, it's just that they added a little flavor to theirs, where they have a lot of shooters," Sapp said. "They run a lot of pitch-backs and shoot the ball."
Almost half of the Commodores' field goal attempts in the tournament have come from beyond the arc (58 three-point shots out of 124 field goal attempts). Senior swingman Derrick Byars, a transfer from Virginia who was named the SEC player of the year, made 5 of 9 three-pointers against Washington State.
"I've had questions about, 'Oh, you just stop their threes.' You can't," Georgetown Coach John Thompson III said. "They hit threes, and even when you're playing good defense, they can shoot over you."
The Hoyas have done a good job recently of defending the three-point shot, with the exception of the first half against Notre Dame in the Big East tournament. In the past six games, Georgetown's opponents are shooting just 26 percent (31 of 119) from beyond the arc.
"We know that they're going to put up a lot of threes and they're going to drive a lot because we're going to have to close out," Green said. "With Roy down there, that can change the game."
Green and Hibbert dominated the first meeting, but Hibbert isn't assuming he'll be able to do that again. He admitted he wasn't as aggressive in the first half against Boston College on Saturday as he should have been, and that can't happen against the Commodores.
"They're extremely physical," Hibbert said. "They know what I'm going to be able to do, so I have to have some counter moves to what they're going to throw at me. I'm going to have to be physical from the start."