- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 12, 2003

Operation Protect Mike Sweetney now is likely to go into effect.
The Georgetown Hoyas know that only a few whistles against their star stands between them and a possible undefeated record. But they also know what the scouting report on their team is.
Both of Georgetown's losses have come after the preseason All-American forward got into foul trouble. Sweetney, who is Georgetown's leading scorer (20.2 points) and rebounder (8.9), is simply too valuable to be sitting on the bench for extended minutes, and coach Craig Esherick hinted that he may play more zone defense to help keep Sweetney from picking up cheap fouls.
"We have to do a better job of keeping people away from Mike," Esherick said. "I thought there were a couple plays down at our end of the floor [in Wednesday's 93-86 road loss to No. 1 Duke] in the first half where Mike could have been called for a foul and they didn't call it. It was because guys didn't stand in front of their men, and Mike had to come over from the weak side and look to block a shot or help out.
"That's got to stop," Esherick continued. "When two people are standing next to the guy that's fouled, we've got to a do a little better job of putting our hand up when we're not Mike. We've been playing a lot of man [defense] lately, and we may have to play a little more zone."
Georgetown (8-2) opens conference play today against surprising West Virginia (9-3, 1-0 Big East) at MCI Center. Undoubtedly, the Mountaineers will look to go straight at Sweetney and get him out of the game.
Nonetheless, Sweetney said he's not going to play tentative defense just because he has picked up fouls in big games.
"The more you put on your conscience 'Yeah, I've got to worry about what I'm doing because of fouls' that's when the other team will score or you do foul," Sweetney said. "You just have to play your style of game and hopefully things will change."
However, the 6-foot-8, 260-pounder conceded that he will do less reaching and try to play more straight-up defense.
In Georgetown's first loss, Dec.28 at Virginia, Sweetney played a season-low 15 minutes and scored just 11 points in a 79-75 defeat. In Wednesday's loss to Duke, Sweetney picked up his fourth foul early in the second half with the Hoyas leading 49-48. With him on the bench, the Blue Devils outscored Georgetown 15-5.
When Sweetney came back in the game four minutes later, the Hoyas trailed 63-54, the largest deficit in the game to that point. Plus, Sweetney was not much help on the defensive end. Chris Duhon, Duke's heady point guard, quickly realized the situation and exclusively fed 6-9 freshman forward Shelden Williams for easy dunks. Williams scored seven of his 15 points after Sweetney picked up the fourth foul.
All told, Sweetney managed to play 25 minutes and score a game-high 23 points. However, the Blue Devils broke open a tight game with Sweetney on the bench.
The Hoyas seem to deflate whenever Sweetney goes out. There's no question that he is Georgetown's go-to man, especially since he shoots 54.6 percent from the floor, but the Hoyas are still looking for someone to step up when their main man is not in the game.
"When your best player, leading scorer, leading rebounder and team captain is not on the floor, things tend to drop off," sophomore point guard Tony Bethel said. "We would love to have him on the floor for 40 minutes; it would make things easier. When he goes off, I feel that I have to step my game up not necessarily score but maybe penetrating and getting other people open."
Meanwhile, Ashanti Cook, Georgetown's promising freshman guard, will not play today after rolling his right ankle in the second half against Duke. Cook also is questionable for Tuesday's Big East game at Seton Hall.

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