Before he was the head basketball coach at George Mason, Long Beach State Coach Joe Harrington spent 10 seasons at the University of Maryland as an assistant to Lefty Driesell. But the fine points of basketball were not all Harrington learned from his former boss.

"When you go to the game, watch {Harrington}," said American University Coach Ed Tapscott. "The funniest thing about Joe is, after all the years with Lefty Driesell, he claps his hands just like Lefty. He holds his left hand out, brings his right hand to it and holds it in front of his body, just like the Left-hander. Get some old films of Lefty and then look at Joe. It's exactly the same."

"I think coaches pick up things from coaches they work for," said Harrington, whose 49ers play 18th-ranked Georgetown today at 2 p.m. at Capital Centre, "but I never noticed that. {Tapscott} squats on the sidelines just like {former AU coach} Gary Williams."

Today's game is a homecoming for Harrington, who was the head coach at George Mason for seven seasons. During his tenure, the Patriots won 112 games, joined the Colonial Athletic Association, moved into the 10,000-seat Patriot Center and went to the NIT in 1986. Last March, after a 15-13 record, he resigned to take the Long Beach job.

The game with the Hoyas is the first of a local doubleheader for Harrington. Monday night, Long Beach plays American at Fort Myer.

Long Beach's only loss in five games was a 94-62 drubbing by second-ranked Arizona Dec. 4. "We played even with them for about 25 minutes and they just started to pound us," Harrington said. "It was a 10-point game until the last five minutes, and then it got out of hand."

In their last game, last Sunday against Loyola-Marymount, the 49ers came back from a 22-point first-half deficit to win in overtime, 117-113, behind Rudy Harvey's 25 points and 14 rebounds. Harrington said it was the first time a team of his had come from that far behind to win.

Georgetown Coach John Thompson said after Georgetown's 89-59 rout of UMBC Wednesday that Long Beach was the first team the Hoyas would play that is better than Georgetown.

"Marymount, who they beat Sunday, is a very good team," Thompson said yesterday. "The people in California who follow basketball picked Marymount as the best team in Southern California. There are a lot of good teams in Southern California. This team is playing extremely well. I know that last year the score {an 86-72 Hoyas win} didn't reflect the game. It was a very tough game."

In the early 1970s, Long Beach was the class of the Pacific Coast Athletic Association, producing all-Americas such as Ed Ratliff and making NCAA tournament appearances under Coach Jerry Tarkanian. But last season, Long Beach went just 12-19, losing its final eight games. After a season-ending 35-point loss to Tarkanian's Nevada-Las Vegas Rebels in the PCAA tournament, the 49ers had a coaching vacancy.

"I took over a program that needed a lot of development," Harrington said. "Basically, we're rebuilding the program at Long Beach. When they had Jerry Tarkanian and Lute Olson, they were some of the best teams in the country. To restart the fire, that tradition, it's basically what we had to do at George Mason. It's a complete face-lift."

"Joe's real intense," Tapscott said. "I'm used to intense coaches, because I coached under Gary Williams. Joe has that type of intensity."

Georgetown will have to contain Morlon Wiley -- "probably our most consistent player," Harrington said -- a 6-4 senior guard who leads the team with 19 points and 4.8 assists a game. Junior forward Andre Purry is second at 16 points a game and 5.6 rebounds. Off the bench, DeAnthony Langston, a 6-10 senior center, scores 10 points and pulls down six rebounds a game, and Rudy Harvey adds nine points.

Asked if Wiley was similar to Vernell (Bimbo) Coles, who engineered Virginia Tech's 87-82 upset of the Hoyas earlier in the year, Thompson said, "They're very similar. I don't know that they're exactly alike. He has the ability to score with the ball. I don't think that's an incorrect analogy."

Long Beach shoots better than 50 percent from the field, and is starting to bring fans back to its 2,200-seat University Gym. Against Marymount, "the place was a full house. They were really into it," Harrington said. "The win at Southern Cal {85-68, against former Maryland assistant George Raveling} helped. They wanted to see what we were about."

To beat Georgetown, Long Beach will have to improve its rebounding. So far, the 49ers have been outrebounded by six a game. On the other side of the glass, the Hoyas, after their 41-28 rebounding advantage over UMBC, are beating opponents by more than 17 rebounds a game.

"It's a typical Georgetown team," Harrington said. "They are deep, they are quick, they are athletic. He's got them playing hard again . . . this year, they're not star-studded. They have a lot of fine players. One doesn't stand head and shoulders above the rest."