Georgetown expecting Chris Wright to return, but not for Big East tournament

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 9, 2011; 12:05 AM

A year ago, the Georgetown men's basketball team scripted a scintillating run through the Big East tournament. It won three games in three days and reached the championship game.

On Wednesday, the Hoyas begin play at Madison Square Garden, again as the tournament's No. 8 seed. This time, though, the degree of difficulty figures to be much greater without senior guard Chris Wright, who has missed the past 21/2 games with a broken bone in his left hand.

"He's progressing as we hoped he would," Coach John Thompson III said. "Obviously, he's limited in what he can do. But it's good to have him back out there and participating in parts of practice. Absolutely we are expecting him to return."

But it almost certainly won't be this week, Thompson said; the target date for his return remains the first round of next week's NCAA tournament. He did, however, say Wright returned to practice on Monday and has been participating in what he called "non-contact drills."

"I doubt very seriously if he will play this week [despite] how well his recovery is going," Thompson said. "One of the reasons he's not going to participate this week is to make [the NCAA tournament] a possibility."

The Hoyas haven't won since Wright walked off the court Feb. 23 against Cincinnati, cradling his hand. And after Georgetown lost by a season-worst 22 points Saturday in the rematch with the Bearcats, the chances of ending that skid at Madison Square Garden seem remote.

On Wednesday, Georgetown (21-9) will face Connecticut, a team it didn't beat even with Wright in the lineup. Getting 31 points from junior guard Kemba Walker, the Huskies defeated the Hoyas, 78-70, in Hartford, Conn., on Feb. 16.

Walker scored 26 points on Tuesday as ninth-seeded Connecticut (22-9) defeated No. 16 seed DePaul, 97-71, in the tournament's opening round.

But stopping Walker won't be Georgetown's only concern.

The Hoyas have averaged a meager 48 points the past three games as Wright's injury has triggered a ripple effect through the offense, which totaled 80 or more points nine times this season.

Cincinnati Coach Mick Cronin and his players said after Saturday's game that Wright's absence made it easier to press the Hoyas and, and as a result, caused Austin Freeman and Jason Clark to wear down from the mental and physical strain of bringing the ball up the floor.

Bearcats senior Rashad Bishop added that it's also easier for opponents to focus their efforts on stopping Freeman, Georgetown's leading scorer (17.8 points; Wright is second, with 13.1 points).

"He's the only person who can really create shots for himself," said Bishop, who guarded Freeman. "So if you eliminate him, then it's tough for them" to win.

Wright's injury is also affecting Julian Vaughn. He has not made a field goal since the senior point guard was injured; he is 0 for 10 from the field in that span. Vaughn has averaged 3.5 shots per game the past two contests compared to 6.8 shots in the five games before Wright's injury.

"As I've said all year, Chris has done a great job of getting Austin good looks, getting Jason good looks, getting Julian good looks," Thompson said. "Now we have to find different ways, different people to make that happen."

Thompson also said he doesn't plan on making any changes to the starting lineup but added that reserve guards Markel Starks and Vee Sanford are expected to see increased ballhandling responsibilities.

"Both are going to have to bear some of that load," Thompson said of Starks and Sanford, who played 14 and seven minutes, respectively, against the Bearcats.

Most NCAA tournament projections have Georgetown securing a No. 5 or No. 6 seed. That, however, could trend up or down based on the Hoyas' performance this week. The NCAA tournament selection committee will also take into account the latest information on Wright's injury.

"We want to win as many games as we can," Thompson said, referring to the conference tournament. "I don't think we necessarily need to prove anything. It's the Big East tournament. This is as good as it gets. As I've said, whether Chris is there or not, this group can win. Now we just need to collectively figure out how to do it."

Hoyas note: Thompson and his players will take a tour of China in August, the university announced. The team will travel to Beijing and Shanghai and is scheduled to meet with Chinese officials, participate in cultural activities and play exhibition games.

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