LAS VEGAS, DEC. 23 -- The symptoms are there, from the two straight avoidable defeats to the freshman jitters that only lately have seemed troublesome. At least on the surface, the Georgetown Hoyas resemble a team struggling to make the transition from old to new, and one might expect to see at least a hint of worry from Coach John Thompson.

But Saturday's 71-60 loss here to Ohio State as part of a "Duel in the Desert" doubleheader produced more smiles than frowns, and Thompson appears as enamored with his youthful club as ever.

Never mind that the Hoyas have lost consecutive games for the first time since the 1987-88 season, that freshman starting guards Charles Harrison and Joey Brown are shooting a combined 37 percent, that their depth is suspect and their offense is sporadic.

Never mind that Georgetown probably will have fallen 10 spots in the rankings within a two-week span by the time Monday's wire service polls are released and that the Buckeyes -- a team whose No. 7 ranking was built on homecourt drubbings of early season fodder such as Bethune-Cookman, Delaware State and Chicago State -- rattled the Hoyas noticeably and outscored them 19-3 during a 7 1/2-minute stretch of the second half.

As Thompson is quick to point out, it's still December, and championships are won and lost in March and beyond. Georgetown still is 6-2, and the Hoyas still have all the promise that came with dispatching then-No. 5 Duke rather handily three weeks ago.

And, most important, Alonzo Mourning is due to return soon and erase a great many Georgetown flaws. The bulk of the Hoyas' ills, in fact, can be traced to Mourning being sidelined (or slowed) since the Duke triumph with a strained arch in his left foot.

"You can't judge us now," Georgetown senior center Dikembe Mutombo said after the Ohio State loss. "This is a time to learn and a time to improve, and we don't have Alonzo. . . . We will be a very good team, I know it."

Thompson also chose to look at Saturday as a learning experience. He pointed to positives, and there were several. Junior Brian Kelly was solid if unspectacular in Mourning's place, and sophomore guard Antoine Stoudamire provided a first-half offensive spark.

Harrison had 15 points and Mutombo was an all-around force, with eight rebounds, eight blocked shots and five assists to go with his 15 points. In the three games Mourning has missed, Mutombo has averaged 15.7 points and 11.7 rebounds despite receiving added defensive attention.

"That's the upside of Alonzo being out," Thompson said. "It gives some other people, like Dikembe, a chance to do some things that they otherwise wouldn't get the chance to do."

And the Hoya Kids' brief deficiency in poise, Thompson insisted, is understandable. "I don't think they lost their composure as much as they were playing a good team that played well," he said. ". . . Like I told them: I don't know of any team that we've had at Georgetown that hasn't had to go through what they're going through.

"I feel real good about {the game}, especially the first half. I loved the intensity and the way they played. . . . Piece by piece, we have to grow. A championship wasn't won today; a game was lost."

With two games -- beginning with Saturday's against Houston in St. Petersburg, Fla. -- before the Big East opener against Seton Hall on Jan. 5, the Hoyas can afford to be overly cautious with Mourning. The junior forward began to experience renewed soreness in the foot after playing in Georgetown's Capital Centre loss to Texas-El Paso eight days ago, and Thompson said he didn't practice the week before the Ohio State game.

There apparently is no timetable for Mourning's return, but the Hoyas now seem committed to keeping him off the court until he's healed. Mourning's foot is "definitely better," Thompson said, "but it's not worth the risk {to play him} now."

And even Ohio State's standout sophomore forward, Jimmy Jackson, assured that it's not time for the Hoyas to be concerned.

"They'll be fine," Jackson said. "All they need is to have Alonzo back. . . . They put up a great fight {Saturday} even without him. In the long run, playing without their main guy like that will probably help them."