- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 28, 2002

We now have an injury-fraught marquee.

A potentially thrilling clash of two of college basketball's best power forwards Georgetown's Mike Sweetney and Virginia's Travis Watson in the spotlight of a national TV audience, may have vanished.

Today's matchup at Virginia's University Hall was partially dashed when Watson sprained his right ankle against Gardner-Webb on Dec. 19. Then Sweetney strained his left hamstring in practice Wednesday.

Watson, the ACC's top rebounder last season and top returning scorer, will not start but is expected to play against the Hoyas. Sweetney did not practice yesterday and will be a game-time decision.

Virginia coach Pete Gillen wouldn't even speculate on just how many minutes his 6-foot-8, 255-pound senior would play. Watson sat out Virginia's impressive 61-57 victory at Rutgers last Saturday.

"That won't be the real Travis Watson," Gillen said of his preseason Wooden Award and Naismith Award candidate. "He will not be 100 percent with his timing and not sharp because he didn't play for a week and missed practice time."

If Sweetney can't play, Georgetown has a couple of options. Hoyas coach Craig Esherick can insert 6-9 senior Courtland Freeman (3.6 points and 1.6 rebounds) into Sweetney's spot or opt for a three-guard alignment with sophomore Drew Hall (4.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, 5.1 assists) coming off the bench to join starters Tony Bethel and freshman Brandon Bowman.

Meanwhile, Gillen has an alternate plan too. In the Rutgers game, the coach started 6-8 sophomore Jason Clark (5.8 points and 2.9 rebounds) for Watson. Clark, who made his first start of the season, responded against the Scarlet Knights by scoring 12 points and pulling down eight rebounds in 26 minutes.

It's too bad injuries have reduced the magnitude of this matchup. Watson and Sweetney are practically the same size although the 6-8, 260-pound Sweetney is a bit heavier. Both are thick, powerful low-block bangers with stellar offensive skills around the basket. Both are certain NBA first-round draft choices, if not lottery picks. Both are on everybody's All-American lists.

"If you started with those two kids, I think it would be hard to find three or more that are better than Travis and Mike," Esherick said. "I'd like to have both of them on the same team, or one of them and I'm happy I do."

Before he hurt his ankle, the left-handed Watson was the Cavaliers' leading scorer (14.3) and rebounder (9.3). However, Watson's insignificant two-point outing against Gardner-Webb dropped his average to 12.6 points. Watson is the first Virginia player to lead the ACC in rebounding since Ralph Sampson in 1983.

Meanwhile, the right-handed Sweetney is averaging a double-double for the undefeated Hoyas (7-0) with a team-leading 20.7 points, 10 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game.

Last year Watson got the best of Sweetney when he scored 12 points and pulled down 13 rebounds seven offensive in Virginia's 61-55 win at MCI Center. Sweetney finished with 10 points and seven rebounds.

"It doesn't matter who I'm playing against, a top player or the worst player, I'm going to come out and play hard every game," Sweetney said Watson earlier this week. "He plays a lot bigger he plays like he's 7-foot, athletic and everything."

Watson has the better outside shot of the two and can step out and hit the 15-footer. What Sweetney lacks in range, he compensates for with a virtual unstoppable game from eight feet and in.

For three seasons, Watson has played out of position because of Virginia's lack of size in the middle but still posted excellent numbers (career averages of 12.5 points and 9.0 rebounds). Help arrived for Watson this season in the form of 6-10 California transfer Nick Vander Laan. After three seasons of handling Virginia's dirty work in the lane, Watson is back to his natural power forward position where he can work the baseline more freely.

"My game hasn't changed that much," Watson said of his switch back to power forward. "Most of the time, I still find myself underneath the basket. Now I don't have to guard a 7-footer, now it's somebody more my size. [But] I liked to challenge myself to outdo somebody that big."


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