Hoyas Hold on For Game, Regular Season Title
Sunday, March 9, 2008
Georgetown senior Roy Hibbert jogged from one end of Verizon Center's court to the other in the aftermath of the 11th-ranked Hoyas' 55-52 victory over 12th-ranked Louisville yesterday afternoon. He had just hugged sophomore DaJuan Summers, whose three-pointer with 40.2 seconds to play provided the winning points, and now it was time to celebrate something that had never been done before in Georgetown's rich history: back-to-back Big East regular season championships.
Hibbert thrust one finger in the air and waved to the energized and star-studded crowd of 19,116, which included Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and Washington Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell.
"It was a great feeling. To be able to win back-to-back, the way that we did it, the type of season we had this year -- we had so many ups and downs but we stuck together," said Hibbert, who carried the championship trophy off the court. "This is the first part [of the season]. We won this part, and now we have to move on to the Big East tournament."
Georgetown (25-4, 15-3), the defending tournament champion, will once again go to Madison Square Garden as the top seed; the Hoyas won't play until Thursday at noon, against the winner of the game between the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds. Louisville (24-7, 14-4), which had won its previous nine games, will be seeded second.
"Winning the regular season is something that's truly special in any league, because it's a marathon, not a sprint," said Georgetown Coach John Thompson III, whose Hoyas beat every conference team, save for Pittsburgh, at least once this season. "In this league -- with so many terrific coaches, so many terrific players, so many terrific traditions -- and to be, for the most part, the hunted all year, to plug along and be standing here as the regular season champs is something that I'm extremely proud of. It's something that's special."
What made it even more special was the way that Georgetown did it. Yesterday's game was, in Thompson's words, an "old school Big East game" that featured two of the best defensive teams in the country living up to their reputations.
The Hoyas blocked seven shots (four by Hibbert); the Cardinals had 14 steals (five by sophomore Jerry Smith). Neither team shot better than 38 percent from the field in the first half, and neither team scored during one particularly intense five-minute stretch. Georgetown senior Patrick Ewing Jr. blocked two shots, stole a pass and drew a charge in that span.
But this was also a game in which the Hoyas displayed so many of the qualities that carried them to the top of the league.
They were balanced offensively; freshman guard Austin Freeman led the Hoyas with 15 points, and made back-to-back three-pointers that gave Georgetown its biggest lead of the game, 40-29, with 14 minutes 52 seconds to play. They could count on Hibbert when they needed a basket; after a shaky first half, the he made 5 of 7 shots in the final 20 minutes. And they remained poised and made plays at both end of the court after they fell behind 51-50 entering the final three minutes.
"We felt like we've been in this situation before, and Louisville necessarily hasn't been in that type of situation," Summers said. "We were comfortable, and we played like that."
Ewing came up with a steal that led to 6-foot-1 senior Jonathan Wallace's tough jumper amid taller players in the lane. The Cardinals tied the score at 52 on a free throw by sophomore Earl Clark. The Hoyas were looking to get Wallace a shot at the other end of the floor, but he exploited a poor rotation by Louisville's zone and found a wide-open Summers on the right side of the court. Summers, who hadn't taken a single shot in the second half, had plenty of time to set his feet behind the arc and release the ball for what turned out to be the winning basket. Louisville missed three three-point attempts in the final 38 seconds.
"That's what we pride ourselves in," Wallace said. "All of us are pretty confident in one another. We're kind of confident when it comes down to the latter part of the game. We've proved that through the different kind of situations that we've been in this year. [Passing to Summers] was a no-brainer; we just found the open man and let him make a play."
Over the past four seasons, with Thompson as coach and Wallace and Hibbert anchoring the team, the Hoyas are 19-4 in games decided in either overtime or by three points or fewer. They are 6-0 this season, having won games on a blocked shot by Ewing (West Virginia), last-second free throws by Wallace following a foul called 70 feet from the basket (Villanova), and a three-pointer by their 7-2 center (Connecticut).
"They've been lucky. They won tonight because they were better," Louisville Coach Rick Pitino said. "Obviously good teams get luck, but on a goaltending [non-]call, a push out of bounds, a Hibbert three -- God bless them, they're closer to heaven than we are."
Responded Thompson: "It takes luck. There's no doubt about that. At the same time, that group in there has put themselves in position to be lucky. We believe in what we're doing and how we're doing it, so when luck kind of rolls around, we're there to take it."
Hoyas Note: Freshman guard Chris Wright, who has been sidelined because of an injured foot, was in uniform for the first time since Dec. 31, but did not play. Thompson said Wright has been practicing for a couple of days and could play next week in the Big East tournament.