By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
With its national ranking a distant memory and its standing in the Big East slipping further each week, Georgetown needed a decisive victory and a stirring display of heart last night to prove its worthiness for an NCAA tournament bid.
But the Hoyas managed neither, delivering instead another erratic display of basketball -- listless at the start and frantic over the final stretch -- before falling, 76-58, to sixth-ranked Louisville before 12,653 at Verizon Center.
Georgetown (14-12, 5-10) never led after taking a 2-0 lead and spent most of the night trailing by double digits despite spirited efforts by guards Chris Wright and Jessie Sapp to rally their teammates.
But the result mirrored the season, providing glimpses of Georgetown's potential -- Wright's tenacity, Sapp's heart and Greg Monroe's athleticism -- but with much of it wasted.
Yet again, the sum was less than the gifted parts of Georgetown's roster. And with only three games remaining, the Hoyas are now assured of finishing below .500 in the Big East, which almost certainly will cost the team a spot in the NCAA tournament.
Some will argue that Georgetown's brutal schedule was the culprit. But Louisville (22-5, 13-2) plays in the Big East as well.
And last night, Louisville was better than Georgetown in every facet of the game. The Cardinals shot 55 percent, compared with Georgetown's 39 percent. They out-rebounded the Hoyas, 34-27. They made eight three-pointers, including six consecutive in the first half. Georgetown, meanwhile, was 3 for 16 from long range.
Louisville excelled at everything not measured by statistics, as well: quickness, fight and physicality on both offense and defense. Georgetown looked tentative and sluggish by comparison, particularly in the first 11 minutes, in which Louisville didn't miss a field goal.
Wright had 12 points to lead the Hoyas in scoring for a fourth consecutive game. Monroe added 10. No other Georgetown player managed double figures.
DaJuan Summers, the team's top scorer through the early part of the season, was all but invisible, finishing with four points on 1-for-8 shooting and four rebounds in 30 minutes' work.
"The stars were just not aligned for him today," Coach John Thompson III said.
The same could be said of the team, which started 10-1 but has now lost nine of its last 11 games.
"For most of the year we've had a lot of peaks and valleys," Thompson said. "We had gotten to the point where I thought we were eliminating that. Today we had peaks and valleys. We had stretches where we were flat and tried to pick it up and couldn't sustain it."
It was the second game in three days for both teams. Fearing his players would be fatigued, Louisville Coach Rick Pitino played zone to open the game. Any concern he had about a lack of pep proved to be misplaced.
Louisville drilled its first nine shots and was unrelenting on defense as well, converting nine first-half turnovers into 14 quick points.
The Hoyas, meanwhile, were careless with their passes, repeatedly underestimating Louisville's quickness. They were sloppy from the free throw line (finishing the game 15 for 23). And they hardly bothered rebounding in the early going.
Thompson tinkered with his lineup, looking for a combination of accuracy and effort.
"Today was just one of those days when you're just trying to fish and sort," Thompson said. "We were just trying to find groups that were effective."
He didn't find one that worked until roughly four minutes remained in the first half. By that point, Louisville had taken its biggest lead of the period, 41-24, on its sixth three-pointer.
Wright and Sapp seemed the only Hoyas with a pulse during the listless first half.
Wright slashed to the basket against Cardinals far bigger than he, dove for loose balls and drew fouls for his physical play.
Sapp played furious defense when he finally got in the lineup. With the Hoyas trailing by 17, he scored the last seven points of the half -- finishing with a three-pointer as the horn sounded to pare the deficit to 41-31 at the break.
Sapp struck again to open the second half, making it an eight-point game. But Louisville, led by Earl Clark with 22 points, answered with a basket each time the Hoyas threatened.
Thompson reiterated his faith in his young team afterward and noted that another path to the NCAAs still remains: winning the Big East tournament.
"The beauty of being in this conference," he said, "[is] you go to New York and you get the chance to fight and get the chance to win it. We have to be better once we get to New York. It's as simple as that."