- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 22, 2003

Darius Rice understands what Mike Sweetney is going through. Like Sweetney, Rice is a superstar on a deteriorating basketball team.
Today at the University of Miami's new Convocation Center, the cellar dwellers of the Big East's two divisions square off when Sweetney's Georgetown Hoyas (11-11, 3-8 Big East) take on Rice's Hurricanes (10-12, 3-8).
Though Rice and Sweetney are different players, their situations are the same. Both are junior forwards. Both were All-Big East performers last season. Both lead their teams in scoring and rebounding. Both are midseason finalists for the Wooden Award given annually to the nation's best player. And both might head to the NBA early once their teams' seasons mercifully end.
At least the preseason expectations for the Hurricanes weren't as high as for Georgetown. Many predicted the Hoyas to finish near the top of the Big East's West Division and be a certain NCAA tournament team. Now the Hoyas are struggling to maintain a winning record and qualify for the Big East tournament.
"Very similar records, very similar struggles," Miami senior forward James Jones said.
With Miami coming off a 24-8 season and losing three starters, including do-everything forward John Salmons, expectations for the Hurricanes this season were a bit more modest; they seemed likely to finish somewhere in the middle of the East Division but certainly not at the bottom.
"Neither team thought they would be in this position," said Miami coach Perry Clark, who grew up in Hyattsville and played and coached at DeMatha High School under Hall of Fame coach Morgan Wootten. "We've both been in positions to win games only to make enough mistakes to lose."
The blame can't be directed at Rice or Sweetney. The 6-foot-10 Rice, who is the nephew of Oakland Raiders wide receiver Jerry Rice, scored 43 points earlier this season against Connecticut, the high for a Big East player this season. Rice's outburst was five points short of the league record by Providence's Eric Murdock in 1991.
Sweetney, the only player in the nation to rank among the top 20 in both scoring (22.2) and rebounding (10.0), scored the second-most points in a league game this season when he powered his way through No.12 Notre Dame for a career-high 38 on Feb.1.
"He's disappointed that we don't have more wins to show for our efforts," Clark said of Rice (19.6 points). "He hasn't gotten all the attention Mike has because he is a perimeter player and Mike is in the post. Sweetney's numbers reflect how good he is."
Poor guard play has been the downfall of both teams. Clark uses a freshman troika of Armondo Surratt, Robert Hite and Eric Wilkins at point guard, and the trio has turned the ball over 120 times (5.4 average.).
Georgetown doesn't have a true point guard and uses Tony Bethel, a converted shooting guard, at point. Georgetown's backcourt is a serious defensive liability, especially on the perimeter and in close games.
"In late-game situations, guards do dictate it," Clark said.
Fortunately for Clark, he has Rice. Four times this season, Rice has nailed a 3-pointer at the end of regulation to win the game or send it into overtime. Georgetown has no such outside weapon.
"He has confidence in his jumper it's just another shot to him," Jones said. "You have to guard him 20 to 30 feet out."


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