LAS VEGAS, DEC. 21 -- Georgetown's basketball team was greeted here today by blustery wind and near-record low temperatures, and now faces the daunting task of waking up early Saturday morning to meet undefeated, seventh-ranked Ohio State with Alonzo Mourning sidelined once more by a strained arch in his left foot that won't go away.
Hoyas Coach John Thompson said today that Mourning will not play in the nationally televised game against the Buckeyes, set for 1:30 p.m. EST as part of a "Duel in the Desert" doubleheader at the Thomas and Mack Center that also will see top-ranked Nevada-Las Vegas square off with Florida State.
Mourning injured the foot making a victory-preserving block against Duke two weeks ago, and Thompson said the 6-foot-10 junior forward began to experience soreness again after playing in No. 12 Georgetown's 71-60 loss to Texas-El Paso last Saturday at Capital Centre.
"What we felt would be the smart thing to do is to get into a situation right now where he's totally well" before playing again, Thompson said. "He's too important to us to have him not at full strength in a game situation. . . . It's not worth the risk to play him."
In other games Saturday, George Mason hosts traditional national power Louisville at Patriot Center, Maryland entertains Lafayette at Cole Field House and George Washington is at Smith Center to face Virginia Tech.
Georgetown (6-1) finds itself in a trying predicament as well. The Hoyas likely will have fits trying to match up with Ohio State's brilliant small forward, 6-6 sophomore Jimmy Jackson, and their key advantage was to be their inside strength. With junior college transfer Brian Kelly slated to start for Mourning, though, that edge might be offset.
The Buckeyes (7-0) already have set a school record with six 100-point games, and they're averaging 107.6 points per contest on dazzling 59-percent field-goal accuracy. Of course, those gaudy numbers have been posted against an embarrassingly easy early season schedule, but second-year Ohio State Coach Randy Ayers nevertheless seems to have the kind of running, pressing club that could remain among the nation's elite.
"People always get caught up in who you're playing, but they're doing what they should do and blowing people out," Thompson said. "They have an excellent team."
As for his own team, Thompson must remain less committal: "By the end of the year, I hope we'll be pretty good," he said. For now, however, the Hoyas must suffer through an even more troubling adjustment period than anticipated. They began the year with just five players (aside from walk-on guard Kayode Vann) who ever played a game in a Georgetown uniform.
On Saturday, probably only two of those -- senior center Dikembe Mutombo and junior guard Ronny Thompson -- will see significant playing time. Mourning, who didn't practice all week, Thompson said, but made a courtside appearance on Gucci Row at UNLV's 69-35 thrashing of Princeton Wednesday, is hurt; sophomore forward Mike Sabol isn't playing for academic reasons; and sophomore guard Antoine Stoudamire missed a month of preseason practice and has yet to crack Thompson's regular rotation.
So the burden has fallen even more heavily upon a supporting cast of freshmen and Kelly. "The younger kids have had to take on the full responsibility of the season," Thompson said.
Ayers said his players won't let Mourning's absence dull their enthusiasm for the encounter. Ohio State had to reshuffle its schedule to make room for this doubleheader -- which was arranged by Nike shoe executive Sonny Vaccaro and donates $100,000 of its proceeds to charity -- and the Buckeyes apparently aren't about to let this chance for instant credibility slip away.
"We've just got to make sure we go into the game mentally ready and make sure we don't worry about who they put out onto the court," said Ayers, adding that today was the first time he'd heard that Mourning won't play. "When our players looked at our schedule this year, they pointed to Georgetown and said, 'That's it, that's the day.' "
Said Buckeyes senior center Perry Carter, formerly of Gonzaga High School: "Alonzo or no Alonzo, they're still Georgetown. And that means it'll be a battle."
Florida State is hoping that it, too, ends up in a dogfight, but the odds don't seem good. The Seminoles (4-2) have sensational sophomore Doug Edwards -- who just two years ago was rated by several scouting services a better college prospect than Georgia Tech guard Kenny Anderson -- and are rapidly upgrading their program in anticipation of joining the Atlantic Coast Conference next season.
But those credentials hardly elicit fear here, for UNLV (4-0) is racing smoothly toward all-time greatness. The defending national champions have a 21-game homecourt winning streak and have won their games this season by an average of 36 points; counting last April's NCAA title game, the closest contest the Runnin' Rebels have had in their past five outings is a 20-point road victory over Michigan State last Saturday.
UNLV's players speak unabashedly of an undefeated season and a repeat championship while terms like "best team ever" fly around them. Even the ceaseless turmoil surrounding the program fails to fluster them; the night after the NCAA's latest letter of inquiry arrived on campus, the Rebels jumped to a 13-0 lead, held No. 25 Princeton to 15 second-half points and set a school record for fewest points allowed.
Said Florida State Coach Pat Kennedy, whose team had to endure a 13 1/2-hour trip here through adverse weather and airport delays: "It took us about as long to get here as it took Princeton to get a basket the other night. . . . When you take their quality of players, quality of coaching and quality of experience, you have to rank them right up there as one of the best teams ever to play college basketball."