- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 4, 2007

Georgetown exorcised its final league demon yesterday, dispatching Connecticut 59-46 to snap a decade-long drought against the Huskies and earn its first outright Big East regular-season title since 1989.

“Do the Wizards play tonight? I hope not, because my wife and kids and I are going to come back and cut down the nets and take them home,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said after his Hoyas (23-6, 13-3) ascended to the top of the conference in just his third season on the Hilltop. “It is not over. We have other things we want to accomplish. … But the regular season is over and we’re sitting at the top, and that feels pretty good.”

As the top seed in the Big East tournament, No. 9 Georgetown has earned an opening-round bye in New York and faces the winner of Wednesday’s game between the eighth- and ninth-seeded teams in Madison Square Garden on Thursday at noon.

“We checked off a couple of significant goals today by beating UConn and getting at least a piece of the regular-season championship,” junior Jeff Green (14 points) said. “Now, another goal is waiting in New York.”

The Hoyas offense needs to improve if they hope to make a deep run in New York, but there’s nothing wrong with their defense. The Hoyas handled the Huskies (17-13, 6-10) courtesy of a smothering defense and dominant pivot performance.

The game-defining stretch came just after halftime, when the Hoyas went on a 15-1 run to turn a four-point lead into a 45-27 cushion with 14:06 left.

“It was their defense in the final analysis which started to take its toll,” Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said after the young Huskies slogged to the school’s worst league record since 1989. “The first seven minutes [of the second half] were just a nightmare. We went seven minutes, and we never completed any set.”

Not only did the Huskies manage just one free throw during that futile stretch, they attempted only four shots from the field, a profusion of Georgetown blocks and steals stopping possession after possession. Of particular note was Georgetown’s effort on the defensive boards. Recently, the Hoyas had struggled keeping opponents off the offensive glass, allowing just less than 17 offensive rebounds a game and an assortment of second-chance points in their three previous games.

But behind junior center Roy Hibbert (18 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks and three assists), Georgetown completely overwhelmed Connecticut, which entered the game leading the league in both rebounding margin and offensive rebounding.

“Big Roy deserves all the credit for this victory,” Green said. “He really put this team on his shoulders today and carried us.”

Hibbert powered the Hoyas through their offensively stagnant first half, scoring 11 of the team’s first 16 points, and dominated on both ends to ignite the second-half surge. Driven rather than daunted by his matchup with the Big East’s biggest player — 7-3, 255-pound Connecticut freshman center Hasheem Thabeet — Hibbert conducted a post-play clinic at Thabeet’s expense.

Setting the tone for Georgetown’s eruption and Connecticut’s drought, Hibbert sandwiched a humiliating steal of Thabeet between scores over the UConn freshman on the half’s first three possessions. Neither the emotionally rattled Thabeet (six points, four rebounds) nor the Huskies were ever the same.

“Rasheem was taught a lesson by Hibbert today,” Calhoun said. “I remember a couple of years ago when we had Josh Boone and Hilton Armstrong, and they couldn’t even play [Hibbert] against us. That’s a great tribute to him and just how much he’s improved. Today he dominated the game.”

Said Hibbert: “This is the time of year to step up. For the rest of the year, we’re in a one-and-done situation, so there’s no time for letting your focus slip.”

Actually, there was just such a time over the final minute yesterday, as the Hoyas had the game well in hand and Thompson had the luxury of inserting senior reserves Sead Dizdarevic and Kenny Izzo. Dizdarevic committed a turnover less than five seconds after checking in, but Izzo put an exclamation point on the Georgetown victory by blocking the final shot of UConn’s Jerome Dyson (nine points), who entered the game as the Huskies’ leading scorer.

“Kenny’s block was a perfect way to end it,” Green said. “That was definitely sweet.”


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