By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 19, 2011; 12:25 AM
DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. - Among the criticisms of the Georgetown men's basketball team last season was its tendency to overlook the Big East's weaker opponents. Midseason letdowns against Rutgers and South Florida raised questions about the Hoyas' focus entering the NCAA tournament, where they lost in shocking fashion to another unheralded foe - Ohio - in the first round.
On Saturday, Austin Freeman and his teammates must sidestep a similar trap when they travel to Tampa to face struggling South Florida (8-19, 2-12 Big East). The ninth-ranked Hoyas (20-6, 9-5) are seeking to rebound from Wednesday's loss at No. 13 Connecticut against a Bulls team that's dropped five in a row and is buried in 15th place in the conference standings.
"I'm not sure," Hoyas Coach John Thompson III said when asked in a telephone interview how he felt about losing to South Florida twice in the teams' past four regular season meetings, "but I know we're coming down here focused to play."
Last February's 72-64 defeat at Verizon Center could be summed up in two words: Dominique Jones. The conference's leading scorer in 2009-10, Jones notched 22 of his 29 points in the second half to trigger the upset.
Jones now plays for the NBA's Dallas Mavericks, but that doesn't mean the Bulls aren't capable of pulling off another shocker. Consider their 67-55 loss Wednesday at No. 4 Pittsburgh, where the Panthers only led by two points with eight minutes to play. Forward Augustus Gilchrist and the Bulls fell to 0-9 against ranked teams, but not before putting a serious scare into the Big East's top team.
Georgetown, meantime, is coming off a 78-70 loss at Connecticut in which it was undone by its first hiccup on defense in nine contests and a 31-point effort by Kemba Walker, who carved up the Hoyas' zone and man-to-man defenses. U-Conn. shot 54.2 percent, becoming only the second team to connect on better than 50 percent of its attempts against the Hoyas. (Missouri shot 56.3 percent in a 111-102 Georgetown win on Nov. 30.)
"It wasn't our best defensive effort and we were playing against a terrific player," Thompson said of the loss to Connecticut, which snapped the Hoyas' eight-game winning streak.
At South Florida's Sun Dome, Thompson said Georgetown's challenge will be finding a way to slow a balanced Bulls attack that's led by Gilchrist (11.8 points, 6.2 rebounds per game). South Florida's next three leading scorers - Jawanza Poland, Hugh Robertson and Jarrid Famous - average between 9.8 and 7.1 points per game.
"What it means is that everyone can hurt you," Thompson said. "A lot of times when you go into certain situations, you know we have to stop person 'X'. Against them, on any given night, there are many different guys, including those who come off the bench, who can hurt you. So Everyone on our team has a challenge defensively.
At the other end of the floor, Georgetown's primary scorers - Freeman, Chris Wright and Jason Clark - will need to be attentive against South Florida, which Thompson expects to mix its looks on defense and contest each shot.
Freeman was limited to 12 points against Connecticut, dropping the Hoyas to 1-4 when their leading scorer is held to 12 or fewer points.
"They'll play zone, they'll play man and play hard for 40 minutes," Thompson said. "So we have to be sharp."