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Furious beginning, closer finish

- The Washington Times - Friday, March 9, 2007

NEW YORK — Georgetown was almost victimized by its own perfection.

The 9th-ranked Hoyas played one of the most dominating 11-minute spans of basketball ever seen at the Big East tournament yesterday, opening their 62-57 quarterfinal victory against Villanova on a game-defining 26-2 run to stun the partisan Wildcats crowd at Madison Square Garden.

For 10:58 yesterday, the Hoyas (24-6) were UCLA under John Wooden, the 1972 Dolphins, Muhammad Ali against Sonny Liston.

During that game-opening run, coach John Thompson III's Hoyas were equally impressive on both ends of the floor. Offensively, they hit 11 of their first 14 shots and dished out seven assists, eviscerating Villanova's defense with a balanced assault — all five starters had multiple baskets during the stretch.

Defensively, they were the Hoyas of John Thompson Jr. — a frenzy of long arms, seamless screen switches and shot-swatting intimidation contesting every Villanova attempt. The Wildcats (22-10) weren't shooting poorly; aside from one wide open 3-point attempt by senior forward Curtis Sumpter, there simply weren't any shots available.

The Hoyas, who by their own admission let up after the opening flurry, coasted to intermission and spent the entire second half in a psychological stall before escaping with a five-point victory.

"It was a tale of two halves," said Thompson, whose top-seeded Hoyas will face No. 4-seed Notre Dame (24-6) in the first of tonight's semifinals. "At the start of the game, we were playing at a high level, getting stops on one end and scoring on the other. It got to the point where we were scoring too easily, and we got a little complacent.

"We got too tentative and started looking at the clock and trying to get the game over instead of playing. They are too good to do that. ... And to their credit, the moment we gave them a crack, they banged down a few shots, got some momentum and got right back in the game."

After trailing 37-18 at intermission, Villanova held the Hoyas to just one field goal during the first 6:34 of the second half, pulling within 10 points (39-29) when freshman phenom and Herndon product Scottie Reynolds connected on his first 3-pointer of the game with 14:40 remaining.

The Hoyas did a masterful job on Reynolds (11 points) and Sumpter (18 points) early in the game, holding the two players who combined for 54 points against DePaul on Wednesday to six points in the opening half. But both Villanova stars gradually found their form against the less-focused Hoyas after intermission.

Not even the combination of Sumpter's 15-point, second-half outburst and Georgetown's slip in intensity could lift the Wildcats all the way out of their hole.

There were a few tense moments for the Hoyas down the stretch. Primary among them was a uncontested 3-point attempt by Reynolds following an in-bounds steal that would have cut the Georgetown lead to 58-55 with 42 seconds remaining. Reynolds' shot was halfway down before it bounced out and into the waiting arms of Georgetown freshman DaJuan Summers (10 points).

"That one would have blown the roof off this place," Villanova coach Jay Wright said.

In the end, Georgetown's depth was too much for the Wildcats. Led by its trio of seasoned juniors, Georgetown made just enough plays down the stretch to hold off Villanova. Big East player of the year Jeff Green (12 points, nine rebounds) posted a solid, if unspectacular, performance. Point guard Jonathan Wallace (10 points, five assists) had his standard contribution of momentum-flipping 3-pointers. And 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert, a non-factor in two previous games against Villanova, made himself available in the post and led the Hoyas with 14 points.

"It was a little personal after the way they handled me in the first two games," Hibbert said. "I think I did a better job establishing myself without forcing anything."

And perhaps the Hoyas, who blew a similarly massive lead to Syracuse in last year's semifinals, have finally learned their lesson about throttling back with big leads.

"I'm glad that didn't happen [again]," said Thompson, who admitted he had flashbacks of last season's loss to Syracuse, when the Hoyas watched a 36-21 halftime lead turn into a 58-57 loss thanks to both complacency and Gerry McNamara. "At the end of the day, our guys made plays and we held on. That's what good players do and what good teams do."