Patient offense and practiced defense helped Georgetown to a convincing win over the defending national champions, who are now suddenly reeling.
WASHINGTON -- The last time Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun held a post-game press conference at Verizon Center, his team had just beaten Cincinnati in the third round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament and was on a run that culminated in Calhoun and Connecticut's third national championship.
Ten and a half months later, Calhoun left the District of Columbia in charge of a team that has lost four games in a row, faces a difficult schedule to conclude their season and might not even be invited to defend their title in next month's NCAA tournament.
A visit from the defending national champions turned out to be just the pick-me-up Georgetown needed, as they held the Huskies to 30 percent shooting (18-for-60) from the field and moved into sole possession of third place in the Big East with a 58-44 win at Verizon Center Wednesday night.
"It was good to have this type of performance," Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. "I thought at both ends we did a pretty good job."
The win, which moved Georgetown's record to 17-4 (7-3 in conference), was a particular relief due to the fact that it came four days after the Hoyas looked distinctly second-best in a 72-60 loss to an underachieving Pittsburgh team. In that loss, Georgetown allowed Pittsburgh to shoot 52.1 percent from the field (25-for-48) and lost the defensive rebounding battle 29-16. Nasir Robinson and Lamar Patterson had field days inside, combing to score 41 points and make 15 of their 17 shots from the field.
Initially, it appeared that a repeat would be in the offing Wednesday night when Andre Drummond scored eight of Connecticut's first 13 points as the Huskies got to an early lead. The visitors should have extended their lead beyond 13-7 with four minutes gone but Ryan Boatright and Jeremy Lamb each took a rushed three-point shot early in the shot clock on consecutive Connecticut possessions. The Huskies went 10:37 without recording a field goal in the first half, and by that time the Hoyas had recovered from the slow start.
"We communicated a lot better [on defense then against Pitt]" said Jason Clark, who posted an unspectacular 11 points and five rebounds on a night when he didn't need to be spectacular. "We came to practice focused, we paid attention to details, and it paid off."
Calhoun's appearance in the media room was relatively short, but he was effusive, insightful, and gracious, congratulating Georgetown before turning the spotlight to his own team's failings. He only showed his famous temper briefly, snapping at a reporter who suggested that Georgetown's 2-3 zone defense had caused UConn's downfall.
"If we were 14-3, you wouldn't say that," Calhoun snapped before reeling off a list of teams the Huskies had beaten who did employ a zone (St. John's, Florida State, and Harvard were among those schools that got name-checked).
Calhoun was more disappointed in his defense than his offense, despite the fact that the visitors went 9-for-48 from the field once you subtracted the 18-point effort of Andre Drummond on 9-for-12 shooting.
"Generally speaking [our defense] was good except we had people who felt down nine (points) with 12 (minutes) to go, game's over. So they're gonna gamble. Bang, you're not down nine now, you're down 11. We didn't stay together defensively and I think we can be a good defensive unit."
After the Huskies cut the deficit to 45-39 with 7:45 left, Calhoun elaborated, "somebody went for a steal, next thing you know we took a bad shot, and now we're down 10. And you can keep running up the hill for only so long, and so that's where we picked up our 4th straight loss and we should have lost all four games ... that should have been a 42-40 game."
Calhoun gave struggling shooter Jeremy Lamb a pass for his 4-for-18 shooting night, saying "on another night, he hits four or five more of those open shots." Shabazz Napier, who went 0-for-9 from the floor, was not so lucky.
"I expect an awful lot more out of him," Calhoun said. "We're gonna keep pushing him. He got beat twice on back cuts, we told him it wasn't going to happen again, and he got beat a third time. I've had 40 years of experience coaching against guys like Pete Carril [Thompson's college coach at Princeton and strategic godfather]. If you gamble, you will get beat."
"Going through it, they were off," Thompson admitted of UConn. "I don't know if [the 2-3 zone] put them on their heels, I thought we were good. I thought our guys executed our slides very well. I think whereas in the first half they got open looks and it didn't go in, in the second half they didn't get many open looks."
As a result, the game felt over long before Sims threw down a monstrous baseline dunk to give the Hoyas a 51-39 lead with 5:43 left that felt like a psychological breaking point. Hollis Thompson rebounded from a disappointing outing against Pittsburgh to lead the way for Georgetown with 18 points and nine rebounds. Thompson's first eight points capped the 16-4 run that gave the Hoyas the lead for good midway through the first half.
With eight games left in the regular season, the Hoyas have the chance to make a little hay, with games against strugglers St. John's, Providence, Seton Hall, and Villanova softening the blow of road trips to Syracuse and Marquette, as well as home games against frisky USF and Notre Dame teams. Getting the first two days of the Big East Tournament off is crucial to success in New York and beyond. With the calendar turning to February, it's officially time to start thinking ahead.