Connecticut's pride was on the line yesterday against Georgetown. As matters developed, it was on the free throw line that the No. 8 Huskies started a 92-71 Big East Conference rout of Georgetown before 16,989 in MCI Center.
The Huskies shot 45 foul shots--and nearly all of them were after good calls, according to Georgetown Coach Craig Esherick. The 38 they made rendered the score so lopsided, because each team had 25 field goals.
Georgetown (10-7, 2-4) played well for the first 10 minutes or so and decently until halftime. However, U-Conn. (13-3, 2-2) scored on the first eight possessions of the second half and increased an eight-point lead to 20 with more than 12 minutes remaining.
"They completely outclassed us in the second half," Esherick said. "On offense, we couldn't get any kind of continuity. . . . I thought a lot of the [Georgetown fouls] were a result of us being out of position. They pushed the ball up the court; we had to foul because they beat us to the basket. They ran a nice little play; we tried to recover--and fouled."
For the Huskies, shooting guard Albert Mouring was perfect on 11 foul shots, and also hit two three-pointers that reversed the momentum after the Hoyas had pulled within low double figures. Point guard Khalid El-Amin was 9 for 9 from the line and scored 20 of his 22 points in the second half.
"We were very sluggish the second half, just lost our confidence," said Georgetown point guard Kevin Braswell (10 for 19, 26 points). "They'd lost [two league games at home] and to beat us like that gave them confidence. No way were we supposed to lose like that."
U-Conn. Coach Jim Calhoun called the game "important but not critical," coming as it did after a loss to St. John's last Sunday in Storrs. That came five days after a home loss to Notre Dame. Calhoun's players were low-key about having to make amends against the Hoyas, but their manner on the court while the lead was building suggested it was very important.
El-Amin once jumped into Edmund Saunders's arms after Saunders made a lovely pass to Jake Voskuhl. Later, Voskuhl waved his right arm in celebration of another well-executed basket. And this was in the first half.
"Coach challenged us, challenged us all week," El-Amin said. "It's great to see a whole week of hard work pay off."
Early on, Georgetown's play suggested an upset was entirely possible. Erratic Anthony Perry hit a three-pointer and a layup off a pass from center Ruben Boumtje Boumtje. Braswell then took over. He scored 10 points in about a five-minute stretch that, combined with very good defense, lifted the Hoyas to a nine-point lead midway through the first half.
Esherick was pleased at the time, but thought better about that after the game.
"Shooting so well early may have hurt," he said, "because we didn't get the kind of ball movement we needed."
Both teams went significant stretches without a field goal late in the first half. But the Huskies caught Georgetown and went ahead to stay, 31-30, during a parade to the foul line. In all, U-Conn. shot 24 free throws before halftime and made 21. A flurry of field goals in the final four minutes helped provide a 42-34 halftime lead.
Almost immediately in the second half, the Huskies could do little wrong on offense--and that countered some rare efficient work from Boumtje Boumtje. When the Hoyas started missing, U-Conn. did not. So thorough was the beating that El-Amin once flipped the ball off the backboard instead of sinking an easy layup and Kevin Freeman caught it in midair for an easy stuff.
The Huskies even had the advantage in the area that Georgetown seemed strongest, inside. They had 14 more close-in points and only had four fewer rebounds. Each coach had a technical foul, but the Huskies converted the one on Esherick into a six-point possession. All Georgetown got out of Calhoun's technical was a free throw by Braswell.
There had been concern among the intense U-Conn. fans about the Huskies starting conference play 1-2.
"But we'd beaten Duke in November, Arizona in December and Texas in January," Calhoun said. "Those all are top 15 teams--and we kind of forgot about that. The [surge after halftime] was the best we've played in a long, long time.
"I told the kids after the game: 'Remember how you played and felt about each other.' "