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Georgetown-Connecticut game should hinge on back-court battle

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 16, 2011; 12:18 AM

The most anticipated story line when No. 9 Georgetown visits No. 13 Connecticut on Wednesday figures to be Austin Freeman vs. Kemba Walker, the conference's second- and third-leading scorers and dueling Big East player of the year candidates.

The most important matchup, though, might be Walker vs. Chris Wright, who said he expects to guard the dynamic scorer at XL Center as Georgetown seeks to extend its winning streak to nine games overall and five games against Connecticut.

"They're hungry to get a big win, especially against us," Wright said. "Since I've been here, they have not beaten us. So I'm sure that's something Coach [Jim] Calhoun and Kemba are talking about."

Adding to the Wright-Walker subplot is the fact that they're friends away from the court and last summer spent a lot of time together at camps hosted by NBA stars Chris Paul, LeBron James and Deron Williams. Walker is averaging 22.8 points, or 12.5 more than the Huskies' next leading scorer, center Alex Oriakhi.

"Knowing the other guy, or what the other guy is going to do, doesn't always help you stop him from doing it," Hoyas Coach John Thompson III said of the relationship between the two players. "There's definitely a familiarity they have with one another. But I don't know if that's good or bad."

Walker, like the Huskies, is emerging from a slump and, according to Thompson, is evolving into a more complete player. The 6-foot-1 junior scored 22 points in Sunday's 75-57 victory over Providence on 7-of-10 shooting. He had shot a combined 30.8 percent in his previous seven games.

But that's not the first thing Thompson noticed about Walker when watching film this week.

"He started off scoring a bunch of points, but now he's also a terrific passer," Thompson said. "It's not like he's just forcing and jacking up shots. If his teammates are open, he's getting them the ball."

Wright, on the other hand, has been among the primary catalysts for Georgetown (20-5, 9-4) during its winning streak, its longest in-conference run since 2006-07, the season it surged to the Final Four. The 6-foot-1 senior is coming off his second 20-point performance in four contests and ranks third in the conference in assists with 5.6 per game.

Freeman, meantime, practiced Monday and will face Connecticut (19-5, 7-5) after suffering a sprained right ankle in Sunday's win over Marquette, Thompson said. Freeman returned after halftime but limped out of the arena.

"He's fine," Thompson said of his team's leading scorer, who is averaging 18.5 points per game. Asked if he'll be limited at all, the coach said, "No."

The battle of the high-scoring back courts, however, isn't all that will bear watching. Georgetown leads the conference in field goal percentage (50.0) while Connecticut ranks first in field goal percentage defense (.390). The Huskies are also dominant on the glass, grabbing 40.9 rebounds per game, and are one of the nation's best teams at generating second- and third-chance baskets.

Crashing the boards, then, will be critical for a Georgetown team that's been inconsistent in that area since the start of conference play.

"There's going be possessions where their good players are going to make good plays, tough shots," Wright said. "But there's also going to be possessions where they are going to miss shots and we have to be diligent and focused enough to box out and finish the possessions."

Wright and his teammates also anticipate a determined Huskies team as it looks to win back-to-back games for the first time in three weeks. After dropping three of the past five games, they're in a three-way tie for fifth place with Villanova and St. John's.

Connecticut also hasn't defeated the Hoyas since 2005-06.

"It makes them more dangerous," Wright said.

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