By Tracee Hamilton
Sunday, January 9, 2011; 12:12 AM
It's one game. That's the party line, the coaching cliche, and it's usually the truth. But Georgetown's 65-59 loss to West Virginia on Saturday at Verizon Center felt less like one game and more like a referendum on this team's season.
The Hoyas dropped to 1-3 in the Big East, with No. 5 Pittsburgh heading to town on Wednesday. If they play against the Panthers the way they did Saturday, the Hoyas will start the Big East season 1-4. In a league that put seven teams in the top 25 this past week, that's not good, even if all 16 teams take turns beating each other senseless during the conference season.
"We're four games into an 18-game season," Hoyas Coach John Thompson III said, somberly. "The bad news is we've lost three of those games. This is the Big East, so no game gets any easier. Does that put a heightened sense of urgency on the Pittsburgh game? Absolutely."
Thompson is right; there aren't a lot of gimme putts on the Big East schedule. But Saturday's matchup came close. Both teams came into the game 1-2 in the Big East. Both teams had beaten only DePaul in league play.
But the Hoyas had managed a handful of decent nonconference wins - Missouri, Memphis, Utah State, North Carolina State - en route to a 12-3 record and No. 13 ranking. The Mountaineers, on the other hand, came to town unranked and with a 9-4 record.
In fact, West Virginia Coach Bob Huggins has been so frustrated with his team that three games ago, he began quizzing his players, before games, on the scouting reports they were supposed to have absorbed. It's not a new gimmick - "I've done it before when we've had knuckleheads," Huggins sweet-talked after the game. Friday, the Mountaineers' practice was, by Huggins's description, "awful."
"If it wasn't the worst I've ever been associated with, it was close," said the man who's sat through 29 years of them.
Yet that same team, a day later, took more free throws, hit more three-pointers and grabbed more rebounds than Georgetown.
In Big East play, the Hoyas have gotten to the line just 63 times, compared with 98 by their opponents. Referees miss an occasional call, but not that many. What explains the disparity?
"I don't know the answer; 'we're fouling more' is the easy answer to that question," Thompson said.
Huggins credited the disparity to taking more shots than the Hoyas - eight, in fact.
After the game, Huggins called Hoyas guards Jason Clark, Austin Freeman and Chris Wright "the three best perimeter guys in the country. I don't think there's anyone who's even close to those guys." That may be the case, but the trio was a combined 4 of 15 from behind the arc Saturday. In four Big East games, the Hoyas as a team are shooting just 26 percent from three-point range.
That might not hurt so much if they were getting some put-backs, but against West Virginia, Georgetown had just four offensive rebounds. Four. The Hoyas ranked last in the Big East in offensive rebounding before Saturday's loss. They had five points Saturday on second chances; the Mountaineers had 12.
Meanwhile, the Mountaineers were playing their best game, "without a doubt," according to Huggins. "This is the best we've shared the ball and it's certainly the best we've defended and it's the best we rebounded."
All of that was bad news for Georgetown, but even running into a team playing its best basketball of the season doesn't explain the fact that the Hoyas were scoreless in the final 2 minutes 35 seconds of the game, after Clark's free throw cut the Mountaineers' lead to 62-59. In fact, they only got off one shot in the final 2:35.
"That, in many ways, is uncharacteristic," Thompson said. "We had chances, we had opportunities, but it did not work out the way we wanted them to."
Thompson's summation is an accurate one. The Hoyas did have chances, but fell short. In the Big East, such opportunities can't be squandered.
"It would be easy to sit here and say that's just how the ball bounces," Thompson said. "We're in a place where we don't want to be right now. Everyone in that locker room from myself on down has to figure out how to get us out of this place."
And they'll need to figure it out by Wednesday.