By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
HARTFORD, Conn., Dec. 29 -- It was easy to feel empathy for Coach John Thompson III in recent weeks, given the harsh Big East schedule in store for his young Georgetown team.
With three top 10 opponents in their first eight days of conference play, the Hoyas could have played well above expectations yet ended up with their promising record spoiled and their budding confidence battered.
But in the hostile confines of Hartford's XL Center, No. 11 Georgetown proved tonight that it needs no one's pity by routing previously unbeaten Connecticut, the nation's second-ranked team, 74-63.
In doing so, the young Hoyas, from whom mere mediocrity had been expected by some at the season's start, proved they're capable of playing as tough as their opponent requires.
There were no nuances or miraculous twists of fate in the upset. Georgetown (10-1) bolted to an 18-3 lead and never trailed, overcoming Connecticut's obvious advantages -- height, athleticism and experience -- with heart, effort and smarts.
Thompson praised the teamwork his youngsters displayed at both ends of the floor. Four players finished in double figures, led by junior forward DaJuan Summers with 18 points. And freshman center Greg Monroe and sophomore guard Chris Wright, with 16 points each, made dazzling debuts in their first Big East game.
It was all Connecticut Coach Jim Calhoun could do afterward to contain his anger, saying that he was "in a state of shock" over his team's lackluster effort, particularly given the sold-out crowd and the stakes of facing a storied rival to open Big East play.
"I apologize," Calhoun said. "I don't know how we could play that poorly."
Though it was the Big East opener for both teams, the game had the feel of college basketball in March, with scalpers trolling the sidewalks before tip-off, and 31 NBA scouts evaluating prospects courtside.
The scouts were drawn by a Huskies starting lineup that bristled with NBA prospects -- chief among them, 7-foot-3 center Hasheem Thabeet. But Georgetown's collective approach on defense, with every player instructed to be aware of Thabeet's presence at all times, reduced the towering Tanzanian to a mere footnote. He finished with four points, seven rebounds and seven blocks in 34 minutes.
And all those NBA scouts, no doubt, turned their covetous eyes to Monroe, who was as poised and creative as Thabeet was plodding and awkward.
Calhoun refused to call any of his players by name afterward, he was so irked by their performance, confessing that for the first time in his coaching career he "didn't like looking at my team." But he didn't hesitate to single out Monroe and praise his outstanding play.
The Hoyas could do nothing wrong at the start, hitting their first three shots from three-point range, while Connecticut (11-1) was stone cold, mishandling one possession after another.
A.J. Price (16 points) snapped Connecticut's shooting drought with successive three-pointers, and freshman Kemba Walker (14 points) came off the bench sporting glittery red sneakers as brash as his shooting.
Wright drained a jumper as the shot clock expired to send the Hoyas to the locker room with a 36-27 lead. By then, Monroe had picked up two fouls, which was a concern given the Hoyas' lack of depth in the front court.
Georgetown has just 11 players, of whom only eight get meaningful playing time. Connecticut, by contrast, has 17 (two of them 7 feet or taller) and can afford to play a more bruising style.
But on this night, Connecticut also played a more selfish style that didn't work to its advantage. The Huskies' guards rushed their shots, connecting on just three of 10 attempts from beyond the arc. They also turned the ball over 17 times and had only six assists.
Connecticut pulled within three points with 12:48 remaining, but Georgetown answered each challenge. Wright and Austin Freeman (13 points), in particular, muscled their way into the paint for hard-earned layups. Jessie Sapp, who continues to struggle with his shooting, played terrific defense. And the Hoyas made 16 consecutive free throws.
As is his custom, Thompson declined to ascribe great significance to the victory.
"With a win, as with a loss, we have to go back and see if we can get better," Thompson said, noting that Georgetown hosts No. 3 Pittsburgh on Saturday. "The commissioner's not handing out any trophies after tonight."