- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 29, 2001

LOS ANGELES It's time for Georgetown to return to its roots and rediscover the blue and gray bruiser within.
When the 20th-ranked Hoyas meet No. 15 UCLA at Pauley Pavilion this afternoon, they would do well to remember former coach John Thompson's longtime formula for success: intense defense + opportunistic offense = winning ugly.
Forget finesse.
Forget style points.
Losses to Georgia and Virginia should have taught the Hoyas (9-2) that the primary ingredient missing from their current hoops recipe is a little old fashioned brawl ball.
"We've just got to get after it more," said senior point guard Kevin Braswell after Virginia's 61-55 victory over the Hoyas on Dec. 20. "We got out-scrapped by Virginia and Georgia, and that doesn't happen to Georgetown teams. It's one thing to get beat. It's embarrassing to get outhustled, to loose balls, rebounds, everything. Part of that is technique boxing out and all. But a lot of it is just intensity. We'll be a great team once we get that intensity level where it needs to be."
Despite having a size advantage against both Georgia and Virginia, the Hoyas were absolutely humiliated on the glass in both losses. The Bulldogs and Cavaliers outrebounded the Hoyas by 13 and 15, respectively. Most damaging, the teams combined for 40 offensive rebounds, both literally ripping victories from the Hoyas on the strength of second- and third-shot opportunities.
"Obviously, that's a major concern," Georgetown coach Craig Esherick said after the Virginia loss. "But we've got plenty of time to work on it, and that's why we're playing teams like Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia and UCLA. NCAA tournament-caliber teams are going to magnify and isolate your weaknesses, so you can try and get those things corrected before the conference schedule and the postseason."
Though Big East play won't begin for the Hoyas until Wednesday against Miami, Georgetown could take a major step toward improving its postseason stock with a road win today over the talented Bruins (7-2).
Like Georgetown, UCLA has been an underachieving squad this season, suffering a blowout loss in Maui to Ball State (91-73) and an almost inexplicable home loss to unheralded Pepperdine (85-78) on Nov. 28.
The one constant in both of those was a complete lack of defensive intensity from the Bruins as Ball State and Pepperdine combined to shoot 46.6 percent from the field. And don't think the Bruins simply ran into a couple of torrid shooting teams. Neither Ball State nor Pepperdine shot better than 35 percent from 3-point range against the Bruins. Both simply tortured a lazy UCLA defense with a series of transition slams, uncontested baseline layups and point-blank jumpers.
"Both of those teams played exceptional basketball against us, but we helped them by taking both nights off on the defensive end," UCLA coach Steve Lavin said recently. "We aren't contesting shots like we have in the past."
Actually, Lavin's teams have always been notorious for indifferent defensive efforts. Despite Lavin's 121-49 record in five-plus years in Westwood, his charges have regularly been accused of roster-wide nonchalance and questionable heart. In the Lavin era, the Bruins have been the Jeff George of college hoops long on talent and even longer on underachievement. Ask the average fan the two words that best describe UCLA, and you're likely to get some variation on the following theme: incredibly talented and amazingly soft.
This season's group of Bruins fits the description perfectly. Leading scorer Jason Kapono (20.8 points) is as deadly a 3-point sniper as the college game has seen in years. He'll typically float about in his signature headband and rain home NBA-length bombs for most of the game. But stick a defender in his shorts in the deciding minutes, and the contact-eschewing Kapono has a nasty habit of disappearing.
But Kapono is far more consistent that 7-foot Dutch center Dan Gadzuric, who has the size and soft touch to be an All-American but is often invisible for entire games thanks to his passive offensive tendencies and hack-happy defensive approach. Gadzuric was the most highly recruited center of the 1990s. And yet he's still in Westwood for his senior season, averaging less than double digits (9.6 points).
Finally, the Bruins are directed by freshman point guard Cedric Bozeman, who has been battling a knee problem for the last month and could see limited time against the Hoyas. This could actually be good news for UCLA fans because Bozeman is the only playmaker for a top-20 team averaging more turnovers (3.8) than assists (3.2).
All this evidence of soft and erratic play means one thing to the Hoyas: The Bruins are more susceptible to good old Hoya brawl ball than any other potential NCAA tournament team on the schedule. UCLA can be broken by intensity and subdued by scrappy play even in Pauley Pavilion. So there's no time like the present for the Hoyas to borrow a brutish page from their past.
"I think you're going to see a pretty fired-up bunch against UCLA," Braswell said. "By that time, [the Virginia] loss will have been burning in our bellies for a long time."

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide