By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 13, 2010; D01
NEW YORK -- Even though Georgetown never trailed, its Big East semifinal remained a tense game well into the second half, with the Hoyas fully aware that a single-digit lead was scant comfort against Marquette's explosive guards.
That's roughly when Greg Monroe staged a dazzling two-minute display of athleticism and grace -- flying through the air for a dunk, then drifting beyond the arc to loft a sweet three-pointer, then following with a crisp assist and a brawny block.
There seemed to be nothing Georgetown and its multi-dimensional sophomore center couldn't do on Friday night. Courtesy of Monroe's virtuoso performance, the Hoyas glided into Saturday's Big East championship game with an 80-57 rout of fifth-seeded Marquette, proving there was nothing aberrant about their upset of top-seeded Syracuse the previous day.
Georgetown (23-9) will face third-seeded West Virginia in the championship game. The Mountaineers defeated seventh-seeded Notre Dame, 53-51, in Friday night's second semifinal.
It's the third time in the last four years that Georgetown has reached the Big East's championship game. This time might have been the sweetest, given the Hoyas' trials down the stretch of the regular season, in which illness and listless play dropped them from seventh to 22nd in the rankings and landed them at Madison Square Garden, host of the Big East tournament, as an undistinguished eighth seed.
Against Marquette, Georgetown looked every bit the conference's elite, shooting 53.6 percent while holding the Golden Eagles to 37 percent and winning the rebounding battle, 44-24.
Monroe finished with a game-high 23 points to go with 13 rebounds, 7 assists and 2 blocks.
"It wasn't anything," Monroe said. "It was opportunities that I took. I just come out and try to do things for my team."
The Hoyas' starting guards -- Chris Wright, Jason Clark and Austin Freeman -- combined for 42 points. Freeman was particularly effective muscling his way into the paint, where Georgetown outscored Marquette, 46-22, and he rounded out his 12 points with eight rebounds and three assists.
Much like their coach, John Thompson III, the Hoyas tend to keep a tight lid on their emotions, never getting too high in victory or too low in defeat. But there were smiles all around in the postgame news conference Friday night.
"Nothing is wrong with me right now," said Freeman, asked about his health in light of his recent diabetes diagnosis. "I'm happy right now. We're winning. So it makes it a little bit better, too. I'm good."
Still, players and coach alike made it clear that the team's work was not yet done, with Saturday's championship game 24 hours away.
"It's March," Thompson said, "and there's no time to take a breath and pat yourself on the back in March. . . . I think Chris [Wright] said it: 'We didn't come here to just say we would beat Syracuse.' "
Georgetown and Marquette exceeded expectations in reaching Friday's semifinal -- Georgetown, by toppling No. 1 seed Syracuse; Marquette by upsetting No. 4 Villanova.
In reaching Saturday's title game, the Hoyas have proved two things: They're capable of beating virtually any team, and Freeman's fitness won't be an issue.
Georgetown got off to a quick start Friday, taking a 7-0 lead in 75 seconds' time. Monroe dominated the paint, taller by five inches than any Marquette starter. Wright and Clark found their shots early, as well.
With Georgetown hitting its first six shots and playing tough defense, the Hoyas soon led 15-4.
Marquette countered with seven unanswered points. It stayed closed from there, with Marquette hitting consecutive three-pointers to knot the score at 29. Georgetown led 37-34 at the half.
Clark hit a three-pointer to start the scoring in the second period. Then the Georgetown student section burst into chants of "Aus-tin Free-man! Aus-tin Free-man!" when the junior guard plowed past defenders for a reverse layup, drawing a foul in the process. With Freeman's three-point play, Georgetown led 45-37.
Marquette was hardly done making runs. Down by 11, the Golden Eagles reeled off 10 unanswered points to pull within 48-47 with 13:34 left. That's when Monroe took charge.
-- WEST VIRGINIA 53, NOTRE DAME 51: Da'Sean Butler, a last-second hero in the quarterfinals, scored 24 points to lead the seventh-ranked Mountaineers over the Irish in the second Big East semifinal. Third-seeded West Virginia (26-6) will go after its first title Saturday.
Notre Dame (23-11) had a chance to win, but Tory Jackson missed a three-pointer with 4 seconds left. The Irish's Tyrone Nash came up with the rebound, but Wellington Smith stripped it from him just as the buzzer sounded.
-- ONUAKU UPDATE: Syracuse center Arinze Onuaku (Episcopal) has a right quadriceps injury and could return to practice by Monday. Onuaku crashed to the floor and clutched his right knee in pain late in third-ranked Syracuse's loss to Georgetown on Thursday in the quarterfinals.