- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 12, 2006

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Hoops lore states pressing teams don’t like to be pressed.

Well, apparently in the case of Georgetown, slow-down, cutting, motion teams don’t like facing stall-ball opponents either.

The Hoyas endured a 68-61 losing lesson last night from a No.16 West Virginia team that plays the same brand of ball … only, at least on this occasion, much better.

“It’s too early to get too happy or too down,” said Georgetown coach John Thompson III, who was steaming but tight-lipped after the loss. “We’re only three games into our conference season. We just have to keep plugging and bounce back.”

The Hoyas (10-3, 2-1 Big East) have little time to collect themselves before a Saturday road trip to the Hartford Civic Center to face the league’s most imposing team, No.4 Connecticut.

At least the Huskies aren’t likely to present them with the same patience and discipline West Virginia (11-3, 3-0) used to expose Georgetown’s greatest weaknesses to the delight of 12,116 fans at WVU Coliseum last night.

Entering last night’s game, the Hoyas had masked a suspect defense and inconsistent intensity by eventually overwhelming most teams with a superior combination of offensive athleticism and scheme. That formula didn’t work against the Mountaineers, who rallied from a 23-12 hole late in the first half to put on a virtual clinic of spacing and motion basketball over the game’s final 25 minutes.

After starting the game 1-for-15 from 3-point range to dig themselves into the 11-point trench with 4:54 remaining in the first half, West Virginia began forcing Georgetown to defend for the full 35 seconds. And the Hoyas either were unwilling or unable to do so, a fact that resulted in a series of wide open looks for the Mountaineers, who parlayed that patience into a 13-0 run to take a 25-23 lead on their second possession of the second half.

Georgetown led only once more, briefly moving ahead 32-31 on a layup by center Roy Hibbert (16 points) with 15:55 remaining. But Georgetown’s sophomore trio of Hibbert, forward Jeff Green (17 points, nine rebounds) and point man Jonathan Wallace (12 points, five rebounds, four assists) couldn’t keep pace with West Virginia’s suddenly potent offensive onslaught. Led by senior forwards Kevin Pittsnogle (23 points, nine rebounds) and Mike Gansey (15 points, 10 rebounds), West Virginia scored on nine of 13 possessions after the Hibbert layup, edging to a double-digit lead (52-42) it never would relinquish on an old-fashioned three-point play by Pittsnogle with 5:59 remaining.

“In the first half, we weren’t making them guard us. We were jacking up 3s like five seconds into the clock, and you’re not going to beat anybody doing that,” said the 6-foot-4 Gansey, who had five offensive rebounds. “In the second half, we started running our offense, and things turned our way.”

It’s not Thompson’s style to single out players for criticism after losses, but his senior trio of Ashanti Cook, Brandon Bowman and D.J. Owens let him down in the intensity department last night. All three have spent their careers on the Hilltop waffling in and out of focus. Against West Virginia, a team that returned four senior starters from last season’s Elite Eight run, anything less than 40 minutes of focus is lethal.

The Mountaineers force teams to defend with their feet, eyes and heads, locating and fighting through screens, trailing cutters, locating and jumping out on shooters and scrambling for long rebounds. And they force them to do all that work for 35 seconds on virtually every possession.

Defending that type of offense can be highly frustrating. Ask Cook, who was charged with an intentional foul for grabbing Gansey’s jersey with the Hoyas down 58-52 and making a final push with two minutes remaining. Just ask Owens, who fouled out immediately afterward going for a steal, lost his composure and was hit with a technical and ejected for barking at the officials.

Or ask Thompson, who knows better than anyone how frustrating such an offense can be after playing for, coaching under and then inheriting the program of Pete Carril, the man who masterfully coached just such a system at Princeton. Fact is, the John Beilein-coached Mountaineers look like a polished version of the same offensive machine Thompson is attempting to build at Georgetown.

“There are certainly things they do that are very similar to things we do,” Thompson said. “We have more interior plays, but our offense is similar. … I do have an appreciation for how they play basketball. If you don’t, you’re a fool. If you don’t, you don’t understand the game of basketball.”

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