By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 31, 2011; 12:22 AM
Lost amid the postgame praise for Austin Freeman and his 30-point performance in Philadelphia was the fact that Saturday's victory over Villanova also was Georgetown's most complete effort of the Big East season.
Players who hadn't seen the floor much recently chipped in with key contributions. An improved defense continued to produce timely stops. And, for a third straight game, the Hoyas outrebounded their opponent, with nine players grabbing at least one.
In the Big East, though, there's little time for self-congratulation. On Monday, Georgetown (16-5, 5-4) hosts the high-tempo, guard-dominated No. 23 Louisville Cardinals, who upended fifth-ranked Connecticut in double overtime Saturday. They bring a record of 17-4, 6-2 to Verizon Center.
If the Hoyas are going to extend their winning streak to five, they'll need an all-around effort similar to Saturday's, when each player who stepped on the floor made an impact, even those who hadn't played a lot lately, such as Henry Sims and Vee Sanford.
Sims, who had averaged less than 10 minutes the previous five games, played 13 of his 17 minutes in the first half after replacing a slow-starting Julian Vaughn. The 6-foot-10 junior grabbed five rebounds, scored four points and blocked a shot, all before halftime, to help the Hoyas seize a lead that was challenged but never lost. In the second half, Vaughn bounced back and went 7 for 7 from the free throw line in the final 11 minutes 37 seconds.
Sanford, meanwhile, showed a glimpse of what he'll bring to the Hoyas after Freeman and Chris Wright graduate. Although the sophomore played only one minute in the first half, he hit arguably its most important shot. The Wildcats had trimmed the Georgetown lead to 29-26 when Sanford scored his only points of the game, a three-pointer with 7.9 seconds remaining that sent the visitors into the locker room leading by six. For the season, Sanford has made 11 of 17 attempts from long range and is shooting 63 percent from the field in limited playing time.
"When [reserves] get in there, we don't expect much of a drop-off," said Coach John Thompson III, who also gave a nod to underclassmen Markel Starks and Jerrelle Benimon.
Wright added: "There are going to be days like [Saturday] where I'm going to get into [early] foul trouble. So we're going to need Vee, Markel, Hollis [Thompson] and Jerrelle to step up and play big minutes in key situations."
After surviving a scare at Seton Hall, Coach Thompson and the Hoyas went to work on their defensive deficiencies during an eight-day layoff. Since then, it's been a strength.
Freshman Nate Lubick, a recent addition to the starting lineup, has added toughness to the interior (the Hoyas yielded an average of 29 points in the paint the past two games compared to 39 the two prior), while St. John's and the Wildcats were limited to a combined 9 for 28 (32.1 percent) from beyond the arc.
"We've really emphasized guarding your man," Wright said after Sunday's practice. "If you have the mind-set of taking it personal with the person that's in front of you, the majority of the time you'll come out on the better side."
As for the Hoyas' recent rebounding edge, Wright said it's often a barometer for things that don't show up in the box score. "It shows desire," he said. "We're a team, but your job is to keep your man off the boards."
Like the Hoyas, Louisville is on a roll - and dangerous from three-point range. Coach Rick Pitino's Cardinals have won four of five and lead the Big East in three-pointers per game with 9.1.
Thompson said the Cardinals' penchant for shooting threes figures to give his team another chance to show its re-dedication to rebounding.
"Conventional wisdom says there are going to be a lot of long rebounds," Thompson said. "So we have to be ready and focused and attentive to running those down."
Georgetown's biggest concern might be shutting down guard Peyton Siva, who is one of the hottest scorers in the conference. The 5-foot-11 sophomore scored 19 points against the Huskies and has made 18 of 25 (72 percent) shot attempts the past four games.
"The person that is guarding Siva or [Chris] Smith or Knowles has to be aggressive, not just reactionary," Thompson said. "It has to be a group effort."