PHILADELPHIA — The Georgetown women’s basketball team made no attempts to mask its self-assurance before its last NCAA tournament game, first dismissing Maryland’s tradition in word and then dismantling the Terrapins on their home court Tuesday night to earn a spot in the Sweet 16.
The Hoyas, though, aren’t making any bold declarations before their next tournament game on Sunday, and for good reason. Standing in the way of their first appearance in a region final is none other than top-seeded Connecticut, the two-time defending national champion and a prohibitive favorite to win its eighth title, which would tie the NCAA record.
So rather than issuing pronouncements about toppling the Huskies, fifth-seeded Georgetown (24-10) is taking a more modest approach as it embarks on the most ambitious assignment in program history. Beating Connecticut, after all, is daunting enough without inciting the likes of national player of the year candidate Maya Moore, whose most recent memory of the Hoyas was scoring a season-low six points in a 59-43 Big East tournament victory three weeks ago.
“We are the underdog. Nobody expects us to win,” Georgetown junior forward Tia McGee said. “A couple of years ago, nobody knew Georgetown had a women’s basketball team. We’ve never really received a lot of respect, but we put a lot of pressure on ourselves as players because we know how good we are. We know the things we are capable of.”
Most recently, that included throttling Maryland, 79-57, at Comcast Center. In that game, the Hoyas opened with an 11-0 run and never looked back in advancing to their first Sweet 16 since the 1992-93 season and the second in program history. Sophomore guard Sugar Rodgers underscored Georgetown’s superiority with a career-high 34 points, including seven three-pointers to match a career high.
The Hoyas will need to have a similarly strong start against Connecticut, which has beaten Georgetown twice this season, and to get Rodgers into a groove as early as possible. The first-team all-Big East selection is averaging 16.5 points against the Huskies this season, shooting a combined 13 of 40. Those totals are well below her per-game averages of 30 points and 53 percent shooting in two NCAA tournament games.
“We showed [the players] both films of our first two games and told them if we change a few things, we have an opportunity to win,” Hoyas Coach Terri Williams-Flournoy said. “There are not a lot of changes that have to be made in this part of the season. We just have to be disciplined.”
That’s exactly the tack Stanford employed on Dec. 30 when it became the only team to beat Connecticut (34-1) this season. The Cardinal limited its turnovers, forced the Huskies into a season-low 33 percent shooting and held the advantage in rebounding, 43-36, for a 71-59 victory that ended Connecticut’s NCAA-record 90-game winning streak.
The Hoyas, however, aren’t fooling themselves into believing rebounding is what will enable them to pull off the upset. Georgetown finished 12th in the Big East in rebounding margin (plus-0.4 per game) and routinely is outmatched along the interior, but what it lacks in size it far more than recoups in chutzpah.
In committing 20 turnovers, Maryland was the latest to fall victim to the relentless pressure that has become Georgetown’s hallmark since Williams-Flournoy installed it three years ago. Before then, the Hoyas were trying to get by with patience and operating mostly in half-court sets, but in a lightbulb moment during a meeting with her assistants, Williams-Flournoy decided to abandon slow and steady for fast and furious.
“I hated it,” senior guard Monica McNutt said about Georgetown’s former playing style. “I can remember freshman year I was the kid streaking down the court to get an easy layup in transition. Transition is so much more fun. It takes a lot of energy out of a team to come down in a half-court set and run an offense that screens, 30-second shot clock, all that. Because we are undersized, that doesn’t necessarily work in our favor, so when we’re beating teams up and down the floor and hitting shots, that’s easy for us. That fits us, and it works well.”
Not even Connecticut has been immune. Averaging 15.2 turnovers per game, the Huskies have committed 47 combined against Georgetown this season, including a season-high 26 in a 52-42 victory on Feb. 26 at McDonough Arena. That 10-point margin is Connecticut’s closest game since beating West Virginia, 57-51, on Feb. 8.
Connecticut has not had more than 16 turnovers in a game since it last played Georgetown and is averaging just 14 turnovers in the NCAA tournament.
“Georgetown has a unique style of play, and it’s not easy to play against for anybody because when they’re applying it well and with what they do, they can beat anybody in the country,” Connecticut Coach Geno Auriemma said. “And when it doesn’t work, they’re going to lose at South Florida [which finished 12-19]. A lot of it depends on how good you are at handling the uniqueness of it. It is different.”