Defense, defense and more defense.
That about sums up the coaching strategies for tonight's NCAA West Regional basketball semifinal between Georgetown (27-6) and Fresno State (27-2) (WDVM-TV-9, 11:40 p.m. EST).
Idaho (27-2) and Oregon State (24-4) will play (starting at 9:08) in the first semifinal here at Brigham Young University's Marriott Center. The winners will play for the regional championship at 2:25 p.m. Saturday. The regional winner will play the Mideast Regional champion in the national semifinals March 27 in New Orleans.
Georgetown, which is the No. 1 seed in the regional, has a wide reputation as a strong defensive team. Fresno State, the Pacific Coast Athletic Conference champion, may not be as well-known nationally, but, among the nation's coaches, the Battlin' Bulldogs are included in the same defensive class as the Hoyas.
Georgetown Coach John Thompson quickly dispelled the notion Fresno State didn't belong here.
"Hey, we're not playing someone who just came off the block," said Thompson after a 90-minute workout today. "I have to be concerned about Fresno State because, first, it's my nature, and because they're a very good team. I can envision having problems with them because they have quickness, patience and just do a lot of things well.
"Fresno is a very difficult team to play. They compensate for their lack of size by performance. We have to apply lots of pressure and hope for an upbeat tempo. We prefer that; they prefer a downbeat tempo. They're a very smart team."
Thompson is well aware Fresno State, whose tallest starter is 6 feet 7, is ranked No. 1 in defense nationally, allowing just under 47 points per game, and is probably the most deliberate, patient team the Hoyas will face this season. But he isn't ready to take anything away from his team, now ranked third in field-goal-percentage defense and sixth in scoring defense (54.1).
Since Boston College shot 71 percent (25 of 35) in an 80-71 victory over GU, the Hoyas have held five of their last seven opponents to 48 points or less. The other two teams, NCAA Midwest semifinalist Missouri and East semifinalist Villanova, scored only 51 and 54 points, respectively.
"Since the beginning, I have stated defense will be our salvation," Thompson said. "We're here for that reason. That's why I respect Fresno State; because they have done the same thing--played great defense.
Fresno boasts victories over Pepperdine, an NCAA tournament team, and NIT entrants Mississippi, Lamar and Cal-Irvine. It plays an aggressive, man-to-man defense and a tight, sagging combination of zones. The speedy back court of 5-9 Tyrone Bradley and 6-1 Donald Mason (10.9) has come up with most of the Bulldogs' 12 steals per game. The other starters are all 6-7 and jump well: Rod Higgins (15 points, six rebounds), Bernard Thompson (nine points, four rebounds) and Bobby Davis (eight points, four rebounds).
Fresno State Coach Boyd Grant doesn't go to his bench often, mainly because his style of play keeps his players fresh and out of foul trouble. The top reserve is another 6-7 player, Desi Barmore.
"We don't have much size at all; that's why we can't afford to run with people or make mistakes," Grant said. "We have to work for every basket, every rebound and stop other people. That's the way we've played all the time. That's the way we'll play Georgetown."
The Hoyas, who defeated Wyoming, 51-43, in a second-round game Saturday, probably will go inside more than usual to 7-foot Patrick Ewing (12 points, eight rebounds). Eric Floyd (almost 17 points per game), Eric Smith (12) and key reserve Anthony Jones (seven points) will also try to get inside against the Bulldogs.