By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 22, 2011; 8:18 PM
In the moments after Saturday's victory, Georgetown senior guard Chris Wright was asked when, exactly, he realized it was time to seize the starring role in the offense against South Florida. Before he could answer, Coach John Thompson III interjected, saying with a smile, "When he gets out of bed."
Thompson was kidding, of course. But he sure was glad Wright did it again.
After scoring a season-high 26 points against the Bulls, Wright has led No. 11 Georgetown (21-6, 10-5) in scoring seven times this season, including each of the past three games. Those performances have come as Austin Freeman, the team's primary source of offense, has struggled.
Wright's 21.7-point average over the past three games is, in fact, the most productive in-conference stretch of his career. Overall, Wright is second on the team in scoring average (13.6 points) behind Freeman (17.2) and just ahead of Jason Clark (12.2).
"He's done an outstanding job of managing the team and managing the game this season," Thompson said of Wright. "He's got an understanding of certain games where it's, 'Okay, the opportunities are there for me.' "
It's possible Wright will need to call his own number again Wednesday against Cincinnati (21-6, 8-6), particularly if the defense keys on Freeman or Freeman slogs through another poor shooting night. Freeman has been one of the Big East's most efficient shooters but has averaged only 11 points the past three games while shooting a combined 32.5 percent.
"Night in and night out, do we need more points from Austin Freeman?" Thompson said. "Absolutely."
Thompson said he isn't concerned about Freeman's slump because the senior shooting guard has continued to get open shots. But there's another reason Freeman's drought hasn't caused his coach more consternation: Wright's recent surge.
"We have enough flexibility and versatility that if [opponents] want to totally take Austin out of his game, we have other pieces," he said.
Over the past three games, not only has Wright been scoring more, he's been more efficient as well. He's made 50 percent of his shots, up from his season average of 43.2 percent, and knocked down 57 percent of his three-point attempts, up from 36.2 percent.
Wright and the rest of the Hoyas' scorers figure to be challenged by Cincinnati, which boasts one of stingiest defenses in the Big East. It gives up 63.6 points. The Bearcats have won two of three, including their only victory against a ranked opponent, a 63-54 win over No. 16 Louisville. The Cardinals had their second-lowest scoring total this season.
Cincinnati, however, will bring a 20-game road losing streak against ranked opponents to Verizon Center.
"That's what they hang their hat on," Thompson said of the Bearcats' defense. "They have inside presence. They make it very difficult for you to score. They go for steals and will randomly double [team] the ball [handler] and have very active hands."
Bearcats Coach Mick Cronin's aggressive man-to-man defense has forced a conference-best 14.4 turnovers; it puts pressure on Wright as the primary ballhandler and distributor.
"You can't be casual with any pass," Thompson said. "You also can't be a casual receiver of any pass."
At the other end of the floor, the Bearcats have five players who average between 8.4 points and 11 points. The group is led by guard Dion Dixon and 6-foot-9, 260-pound forward Yancy Gates, who is coming off his best performance of the conference season, a 21-point, eight-rebound effort in Saturday's 93-81 overtime win at Providence.
"Yancy can score down low but it seems like every 17-foot shot he takes goes in," Thompson said.
After hosting Cincinnati, the Hoyas will have only two games remaining in which to lock up a top four seed in the Big East tournament and the all-important double-bye that comes with it. Thompson conceded that postseason possibilities have begun popping up in recent conversations but said he won't allow it to become a focal point in the locker room.
"We can't afford to think about that," he said. "If you start to focus on seeding, you lose focus on Cincinnati."