Georgetown basketball takes hot shooting hand to Notre Dame

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 28, 2010; 11:42 PM

Through the season's first six weeks, Georgetown produced a host of remarkable statistics en route to an 11-1 record and No. 9 ranking. One of those numbers, though, rises above all of the others.

The Hoyas have connected on 52.8 percent of their shots, the nation's second-best mark, as they open their Big East schedule Wednesday at No. 15 Notre Dame. In fact, if the season ended today, it would represent the second-best percentage in the program's storied history, only six-tenths of a percent behind the 1979-80 team's program-record 53.4 percent and 2.3 percent better than the 2006-07 Final Four squad.

"We have good offensive players, guys who trust in how we are doing things and trust in each other, so there is no temptation to take bad shots," Coach John Thompson III said. "We realize that if we stick with our systems we are going to get a good shot for someone who is capable of making that shot."

Simply put, the Hoyas rarely are guilty of hoisting up low-percentage or selfish shots. Instead, they systematically seek out quality scoring opportunities by reading what the defense is giving them.

"We approach every shot the same, and treat every shot as important," point guard Chris Wright said. "We have very good shooters, so we're not waiting until 30 seconds into the shot clock. If we see an open shot, we're shooting it. That's just the way we are. I don't think we're doing anything crazy."

Many of their opponents may disagree.

Leading scorer Austin Freeman (18.9 points per game on 56.8 percent shooting) and his teammates have produced six games in which they've made at least 56 percent of their shots, and have surpassed 60 percent twice. Three times, they've shot better than 71 percent in a half, including a 78.3 percent effort in the opening 20 minutes against Loyola, the second-best mark in Thompson's seven-year tenure.

There are a number of reasons for Georgetown's accuracy, but three factors stand out. Guards Freeman, Wright and Jason Clark, starters in a combined 220 games, understand what type of shot different situations require, and are a big reason the team is knocking down 42.6 percent of its attempts from beyond the three-point arc (fourth in the nation). The Hoyas also have consistently shown a willingness to make the extra pass to create open shots for teammates, as underscored by their 18.4 assists per game (11th in the country). And they're benefiting from a vastly improved transition game, which has led to easy baskets.

"There's not a team playing better than Georgetown right now. [Not] Duke, anybody," Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey said. "I've been impressed with their transition. It's one of the reasons they are shooting such a high percentage - they're getting a lot of easy buckets in transition. They are also running more than I've seen them run before."

"And they also have an older group that has played together for a while," Brey added. "They know who they are."

So, too, does the rest of college basketball now that Georgetown emerged from perhaps the nation's toughest nonconference slate with a better record than many had anticipated. With a win at Old Dominion and three at the Charleston Classic, plus victories away from home against Missouri and Memphis, the Hoyas now must be considered on par with No. 4 Connecticut, No. 5 Syracuse and No. 6 Pittsburgh in any discussion of Big East favorites.

But to remain in that conversation - and improve to 7-0 in conference openers under Thompson - they'll need a strong opening statement against an experienced Notre Dame team also off to an 11-1 start.

The Fighting Irish boast five senior starters, led by 6-foot-8 forward Tim Abromaitis (16.1 points and 7.5 rebounds per game) and gritty 6-3 guard Ben Hansbrough (15.3 points, four assists), and average 81.3 points per game. But after sixth man Eric Atkins, a freshman, Notre Dame's lack of depth could become problematic against a deeper Hoyas' roster that remains motivated by the memory of February's 78-64 defeat at Verizon Center.

"It's an important game in large part because they killed us here last year," Wright said. "So, in a way, we have a chip on our shoulders. Me and Austin have also never won in South Bend, so there's more motivation. You want to start off in the Big East, a very tough conference, on the right foot. So we have to be ready to play."

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