After Boston College knocked off Georgetown on Jan. 16, 68-66, the Hoyas had a three-game conference losing streak and were unsure about the rest of the season. So Coach John Thompson went back to the defensive drawing board.

"I had to," said Thompson, whose Hoyas are at the Spectrum in Philadelphia tonight to face Villanova. "We started to change, use some gimmicks, we started to put more emphasis on triangle {defenses}, matchups, box and ones. We weren't doing that at all before we lost those games. And then we started to try to compensate a little for the things we had been doing."

The Hoyas still use the full-court man-to-man defense when possible, and the 2-3 zone from halfcourt. But they now go to a variety of other zones with combinations: matchup zones, box and ones, and triangle and twos. Although they haven't always worked, the Hoyas have kept opponents from the kind of production (Dana Barros' 30 for Boston College, Delray Brooks' 28 for Providence) that had been hurting.

Saturday, junior guard Bobby Winston was the key to the Hoyas' 60-59 squeaker over Connecticut, with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

"I think everyone is coming a step up," said senior forward Perry McDonald. "Bobby did come on and play well, hit the boards real well. And Anthony {Allen} came in and hit some clutch free throws {including the game-winning points with 12 seconds left}."

Against Villanova, Georgetown will face balance, and a team that has been the surprise of the Big East. Most preseason polls didn't figure the Wildcats to be a factor, but they have gotten out to a 6-3 conference start, despite an 82-76 upset loss to Providence Saturday.

Villanova (14-6 overall) has gotten solid in the middle with the emergence of 7-foot-2 sophomore center Tom Greis. Last season, he averaged 3.9 points a game. This season, he's up to 12.5 points and a team-high 6.2 rebounds a game. Saturday, he had 20 points, 13 rebounds and six blocked shots.

Junior forward Doug West leads the team at 15.8 points a game. He had a career-high 27 points against Providence, and likes to take the outside shot (four three-pointers Saturday). Kenny Wilson, a 5-9 junior point guard, averages 4.6 assists a game.

"They're tough," said Winston. "They're {near} first place. I'm sure they have confidence. And everyone wants to beat us . . . ."

George Washington salvaged one pleasant memory of January, ending its eight-game losing streak Saturday by beating Massachusetts, 81-74. The Colonials (8-10, 2-7 in the Atlantic 10) had dropped seven conference games in a row and four straight road games before beating the Minutemen. George Washington had five players score in double figures, most notably freshman forward Glen Sitney's career-high 19.

George Mason stayed in a tie for second in the Colonial Athletic Association with its fifth straight victory, beating James Madison, 86-66. It was just the fourth time George Mason (12-16, 5-2) beat the Dukes in Harrisonburg. Mason is a game behind first-place Richmond and tied with North Carolina-Wilmington.

Navy had a surprisingly easy time knocking off American, 75-60, at Bender Arena. The Midshipmen took a 19-6 lead in the first half. AU, behind Mike Sampson's 18 points, tried to rally, but got virtually nothing from its front court. Navy guards Mel Davis and Erik Harris slowed the tempo.

"I told them you can't get in a running game with Mike Sampson," said Navy Coach Pete Herrmann. "Mike'll kill you. Mike's going to be able to handle that. He's a senior. He wants you to do that. So you've got to be sure you're able to control the tempo against a team like American."

Navy center Byron Hopkins scored 10 points and blocked six shots. Freshman Eddie Reddick, from St. John's High School in the District, scored 14 points and pulled in nine rebounds. Herrmann said his team has surged in the last two games after the Midshipmen turned up their defensive pressure.

Said Herrmann, "People are beginning to realize that {guard} Cliff Rees is not going to carry this team offensively, neither is {center} Byron Hopkins. Everybody's got to make their contributions."

Coach Ed Tapscott was disgusted with AU's performance. "This is just as important a contest as the Mason game {a one-point loss Wednesday}," he said. "And no, we did not come out ready to play. . . . So we'll have to do something to shake them up and get them ready."