HOUSTON, DEC. 7 -- The Hoya Kids, with the help of an imposing pair of relative old-timers, have notched their first significant victory as collegians well ahead of their coach's preferred schedule. Now comes perhaps an even tougher early-season test for Georgetown's youthful cast -- what easily could become a Texas-style ambush on a possible letdown day at the Summit.
The sixth-ranked Hoyas, two days removed from their compelling win over No. 5 Duke in the ACC-Big East Challenge, are here to face Rice Saturday in an 8 p.m. EST matchup that might prove more troublesome than expected. These Owls look to be the school's best team in two decades, and they seem to believe that a program-boosting upset is not such an absurd notion.
The Hoyas apparently are wary of their potential predicament. "One game doesn't make your season, especially when it's in December," junior forward Alonzo Mourning said after spurring Wednesday's 79-74 triumph over the Blue Devils. "You have to look at everything in terms of the long haul. Beating Duke doesn't mean anything if we go out and lose" to Rice.
Maryland, which plays Saturday night at Jacksonville, is just trying to gain some perspective on the young season. Are the Terrapins the team that outfought Towson State and Southern Cal or the group that regressed the last two games, losing to West Virginia, then Boston College in the ACC-Big East Challenge?
The 100-85 loss to the Eagles gave Maryland an 0-2 record in the Challenge. Last year Gary Williams's squad was crushed by Connecticut, 87-65.
"Against BC we were down by three points with three minutes to play, so we were in it. We were a bad team when we played Connecticut last year and we played that way for another 15 days," Williams said. "This year we can definitely get better than we are and if we do that it could mean some more wins in the ACC."
Maryland will make a switch in preparation for the conference season, Kevin McLinton moving into the starting lineup to replace Vince Broadnax at small forward.
"It's one of those cases where it isn't what Vince was or wasn't doing, right now we're just a better team with Kevin in the game at the start," said Williams. "He gives us another ball handler while Vince should be able to come in and give us a lift defensively like he did a year ago."
In other games involving area colleges, Howard visits Winthrop, George Washington is at Massachusetts and Virginia hosts Vanderbilt.
Georgetown Coach John Thompson contends he still dislikes the ACC-Big East Challenge because it forces him to play a high-intensity early-season game against his wishes, but he had to concede that the Duke game was beneficial for his team. The Hoyas (4-0) have three freshmen starters and five newcomers in their nine-player rotation, and Thompson said the high-stakes atmosphere was a good introduction for them.
"You can't talk experience to a 17-year-old kid," he said. "They have to have the experiences. That's the only thing I liked about it. It provided a useful experience."
And the Hoyas, for the most part, responded brilliantly in their first game this season against a Division I opponent. Freshmen guards Joey Brown and Charles Harrison didn't shine statistically -- they shot a combined five of 20 and totaled seven of Georgetown's 25 turnovers -- but Brown harassed Duke point guard Bobby Hurley into a miserable evening and Harrison provided some clutch play down the stretch.
And Mourning and 7-foot-2 senior center Dikembe Mutombo assured that those contributions were enough, as they provided 36 points, 23 rebounds and 6 blocked shots between them. Duke shot just 33 percent -- the norm for Georgetown's opponents thus far.
The Hoyas' combination of half- and full-court pressure was more effective than perhaps even they anticipated. Georgetown didn't promise to be a particularly adept pressing team -- with Mourning and Mutombo often on the court together -- but Duke regularly was unnerved into taking hurried, challenged shots.
This club was supposed to prosper later in the season, but it may be better at an earlier point than seemed conceivable, given the roster turnover from last season.
"These freshmen aren't freshmen," Mourning said. "They're playing very mature, and we know we can count on them. . . . We can be very, very good. We just have to keep working on things and keep learning and developing."
Saturday should be another telling step in that process. Rice traditionally has been Southwest Conference fodder, having gone 19 years without a winning season. The Owls have failed to push the Hoyas in either of their previous meetings, with Georgetown winning by 27 points three years ago and by 21 last season.
But fifth-year coach Scott Thompson appears to have the program on the verge of a turnaround. Rice was 10-7 last season before losing 10 of its final 11 games. Now, a winning season and perhaps postseason play may be on the horizon.
"I think we have the type of team that can be good," Thompson said. "When I got here, the program was just so down, and I think we've made great progress. We wanted it to happen with major steps, but so far it's been just with small steps. I think, I hope, that a major step is coming up sometime soon."
The Owls (3-1) have all five starters scoring in double figures, and they have rugged inside players to combat Mourning and Mutombo. Rice's best player is 6-9 center Brent Scott, a versatile sophomore averaging 17.8 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, and he has 6-10 power forward Ken Rourke alongside him.
Scott, a member of the U.S. junior national team last summer, is a banger who has a string of eight straight games with 10 or more rebounds. But he also possesses a soft jump shot accurate from 15 feet, and he could give Mourning problems with his perimeter skills in one-on-one situations.
"I think we can give them some problems," Scott Thompson said. "Let's face it, if they play their best game, we probably can't beat them. But it they're not at their best and we get a few breaks, I think it could be interesting. Our kids are excited about getting a chance to play Georgetown."