By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 30, 2008
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., Nov. 28 -- Shortly before the first Model T rolled off the assembly line, Georgetown and Maryland suited up for their first basketball game against each other.
But for the better part of the last 27 years, Washington's storied college rivalry has been shelved -- a casualty, depending on who's talking, of pride, pressure and self-interest.
Sunday's consolation game of the Old Spice Classic delivers the long-awaited next installment -- one that will be played 850 miles from home, in a 5,000-seat arena that will boast more orange T-shirts than red or gray.
Tennessee, with hordes of Volunteer faithful in tow, takes on No. 9 Gonzaga in the evening's championship game. But in the Washington area, the undercard matters far more.
"It's about bragging rights in the area," says ESPN analyst Len Elmore, an all-American at Maryland in the early 1970s, when Lefty Driesell's Terrapins dominated the rivalry. "And it ought to be fun, with two well-coached, quality teams."
Sunday's game comes on the heels of the first loss of the season by each team. Both were by double-digits margins, with Georgetown (3-1) falling to 12th ranked Tennessee, 90-78, and Maryland (4-1) dropped by No. 9 Gonzaga, 81-59, in the tournament's second round.
While the rosters of Georgetown and Maryland are stocked with local players who know one another's games intimately, it will mark the first meeting between coaches John Thompson III and Gary Williams.
And though fans may see the outcome as crowning a king of Washington area hoops, Thompson and Williams are playing down the hype, denying there is any dynamic at play Sunday other than an opportunity to improve.
"From where we sit, we are trying to prepare ourselves for conference play," Thompson said. "This is another game against a very good team that will prepare us for conference play."
Hoyas sophomore guard Chris Wright, who is from Bowie, echoed the sentiment.
"I'm going to approach it like any other game: a game we have to execute," Wright said. "In terms of it being important because it's a Maryland-Georgetown game, I'm really not into that."
Said Williams: "You know, we both have our rivalries. They have great rivalries in the Big East; we have great rivalries in the ACC. Those are two of the best basketball conferences in the country. For the fans, I know they like the local rivalries and things like that, but you know, we just happen to be located close to each other."
Maryland holds a 36-26 advantage in the series, which dates from the 1907-08 season.
But the teams have met just twice since 1981 despite being separated by a mere 12 miles: At Landover's old USAir Arena on Thanksgiving weekend in 1993, when a young Maryland squad upset Georgetown in overtime, 84-83; and in the 2001 NCAA tournament round of 16, with Maryland advancing, 76-66.
This time, Georgetown will be favored by virtue of its ranking (21st) and more imposing front court -- particularly against a relatively small Maryland lineup that was manhandled by Gonzaga's heft and size.
Greg Monroe, the Hoyas' 6-foot-11 freshman center, has proven capable of taking over games, provided he stays out of foul trouble.
"He looks like he might be the next Bill Russell," Driesell in a telephone interview. "He blocks everything, and he can run the floor."
And 6-8 junior forward DaJuan Summers adds explosive scoring ability under the basket and beyond the arc, provided his intensity doesn't desert him.
With defense a hallmark of Thompson's team, the 90 points surrendered to Tennessee was alarming.
Maryland can only hope to replicate the Volunteers' hot shooting night (53 percent) in the face of Georgetown's pressure. Junior guard Greivis Vasquez, who has shouldered the Terrapins' offensive load, will need more help than he got against Gonzaga. Vasquez sunk the only three-point basket in a game in which his teammates shot 0 of 12 from beyond the arc.
But Vasquez is hardly Maryland's only gifted shooter, as Thursday's upset of fifth-ranked Michigan State proved.
With a victory over Georgetown, Maryland would return to College Park having beaten two ranked teams in a four-day span -- an achievement that would help the Terrapins break into the top 25.
For Georgetown, a victory ought to help maintain its ranking.
Regardless of Sunday's outcome, Driesell, whose son Chuck is a Maryland assistant coach and a former Georgetown assistant coach, believes it's a game that should be played every year rather than every 10 or 20 years.
"The game of basketball, particularly college basketball, is all about challenges," Elmore said. "Both programs should want to accept the challenge of playing each other, and the athletic directors should put their heads together and find a way to make this happen."
Asked about the possibility, Thompson didn't rule it out, saying, "There is no one, other than probably Princeton, that I'm categorically opposed to playing."