Fortune Smiles Upon Them

By Sally Jenkins
Friday, March 14, 2008

NEW YORK Georgetown pulled through again, thanks to me. I figured the Hoyas could use my help in the Big East tournament, after listening to everyone from Rick Pitino to the experts at ESPN talk abut how they're more lucky than good. I brought all my lucky charms to courtside at Madison Square Garden, lodestones, clovers, curios, doo-dads, hoodoos. And what do you know? Shazam, the Hoyas advanced to the semifinals.

Some might look at the Hoyas' margin of victory over Villanova, 82-63, and ask, what did I have to do with it? They might glance at the stat sheet and see that the Hoyas made a school-record 17 three-pointers and shot almost 55 percent from the field. But I say, let's credit the source. It all started at the 18-minute 32-second mark of the first half, when Jonathan Wallace rose in the air from behind the arc. Right then, I grabbed for my scarab beetle and started rubbing. BOOM! The shot went in.

Wallace was 5 for 5 from the arc in the first half. You call that natural? Everybody knows the deal on the Hoyas: They're all record and no substance. They're 26-4, and they've won 13 of their last 15 games, and no one can quite figure out why or how. They have no overtly brilliant finisher, no Jeff Green as they did last year. The big man Roy Hibbert is impressive, but it's not like he's the indispensable centerpiece of a team -- he was on the bench in foul trouble for all but 14 minutes against Villanova, and took just two shots, missing both.

Six times this season the Hoyas have won by three points or less in the closing seconds, including the previous meeting with Villanova last month, when Wallace benefited from a fortuitous foul call 70 feet from the basket with 0.1 of a second on the clock. "They've been lucky," Louisville's Pitino declares. "Put it this way, if they were going to the racetrack we'd all be up a lot of money right now." Pitino has made these sorts of penetrating analytical comments about the Hoyas all season. He's even observed, "God bless them, they're closer to heaven than we are."

But the Hoyas would tell you that luck is probability taken personally. According to them, their performance on Thursday afternoon was no mere windfall, but rather a matter of team offense, and smart playing. They tirelessly and patiently reversed the ball, skipped it, made extra pass after extra pass, and generally played the game like a demonstration video. The result was 25 assists on 28 field goals, most of which were wide-open shots. "That's exactly how we want to play," said DaJuan Summers. "That's how we practice. We get open looks."

Patrick Ewing Jr. alone had seven assists, turning down open shots to find teammates even more open. "Everyone else calls it lucky," Ewing said. "We're a good team. We're a good team. We do a lot of things that maybe people don't understand how good we are. We do things as a team. If see a good shot, and I see someone with a better shot, I want to give it up. I want to give up a good shot for a great shot. Coach talks about that a lot."

The Hoyas would say lucky teams and good teams are one and the same thing -- that you can't be one without the other. But surely, the Hoyas needed my vast array of mojo trinkets, animal feet, black-eyed peas, holy medals and heads-up coins when Villanova went on a 26-9 run. The Wildcats erased the Hoyas' 40-29 halftime lead, and then went ahead 47-43 on Antonio Pe¿a's putback with a little more than 13 minutes to go.

It was time for me to step up. I thumbed a buckeye. BOOM! Jessie Sapp dropped a three. I'm telling you, from then on, he was infallible. Sapp finished with 23 points, going 6 of 9 from beyond the arc. Abracadabra, the game was over.

It was an unusually gaudy victory and box score, but it merely put the Hoyas in the semifinals against West Virginia, and it won't do anything to convince skeptics that they are more good than lucky. Perhaps not even a second straight Big East tournament title will do that. To a certain extent, the Hoyas suffer from raised expectations after their spectacular confetti-drenched run to the Final Four last season. This season's team is less surprising and less inherently dramatic, and perhaps slightly more workmanlike. As ever, they are a reflection of their coach, John Thompson III, who tries to blend into every backdrop, with his buttoned-down brown suits and habitually low-key statements. Just like him, the Hoyas, in their shapeless gray uniforms, are a team of underrated virtues and understated pride.

"We're overlooked a lot," Sapp said. "They question our wins, they question our ability, they question our guard play. They question everything. I think we answer a lot of questions, but they still seem to find more questions."

"It's what we're used to," Ewing said. "I never heard of a 'lucky' team winning a conference. We won when we're supposed to. But ya'll still say we got something to prove."

Something tells me they like it this way. After the game, Big John Thompson, the father of Georgetown's head coach, leaned against a wall in a back hallway just outside the Hoyas' locker room, and gleefully teased the players as they walked past him. "We were lucky," he boomed. "We were lucky."

Strangely, he didn't thank me for all of the ladybugs, horseshoes, salt shakers and feathers I brought. I never get any credit. That's all right. It's just a good thing I was there.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company