LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Georgetown still has no signature win.
Following one of their best halves of the season with undeniably their worst, the sixth-ranked Hoyas managed just 20 points after intermission at Freedom Hall last night, slumping to a 59-51 loss to surging Louisville.
Now clinging to just a half-game lead over Notre Dame (18-4, 8-2) atop the Big East standings, the Hoyas (19-3, 9-2 Big East) face a quick turnaround tomorrow night, when they attempt to snap Villanova’s six-game winning streak at Verizon Center.
Given the final score, it’s hard to believe that Georgetown dominated the Cardinals (18-6, 8-3) for a half in front of the fourth-largest crowd in Freedom Hall history (20,083). For 20 minutes last night, the Hoyas dictated the pace of play, allowing Louisville only seven first-half field goals en route to a 31-23 lead. Georgetown corralled every loose ball, dominated the boards and smothered the Cardinals before the break.
But there was a dramatic transformation at intermission, a change personified by coach Rick Pitino’s wardrobe switch. After donning a dazzling pearl suit in honor of the game’s designated “whiteout” status for the first half, the coaching guru switched into an understated navy affair after intermission.
“I haven’t worn a white linen suit since my communion,” said Pitino, who went on to explain the change had nothing to do with superstition. “Nobody told me that you can’t wear a white suit with blue [underwear]. When I got out there, I started sweating, the blue started to bleed through and that’s not a good look.”
Like their coach, the Cardinals had a decidedly more blue-collar look in the second half. After falling behind 33-23 on a hook from Georgetown center Roy Hibbert (14 points, four rebounds, two blocks) on the opening possession of the second half, Louisville took command of the tempo.
Though the scoring pace didn’t escalate appreciably thereafter, Louisville doubled the intensity of its frenzied fullcourt press, highlighting the ball-handling and quickness issues with Georgetown’s backcourt that Seton Hall had exposed a week earlier.
All four primary Georgetown ball-handlers ended the game with multiple turnovers. And as the intensity became more harried, Georgetown’s guards seemed to revert to survival mode offensively. Time and again, the Hoyas fought to advance the ball over the timeline, and the effort seemed to knock them completely out of their offensive rhythm. On possession after possession the Hoyas scampered across halfcourt and then went into defensive mode, passing the ball around the perimeter instead of making hard cuts and running their offense. The result was a painfully stagnant, tentative series of possessions that ended in ill-fated contested jumpers.
Senior guard Jon Wallace continued to struggle miserably with his jumper, missing all five of his 3-point attempts; the program’s leading all-time 3-point leader is now 9-for-38 (23.7 percent) from behind the arc dating back to the Connecticut game. And for the first time recently, backcourt mates Jessie Sapp (five points) and Jeremiah Rivers (two points) did little to pick up the slack.
“It was a different game in the second half. They did a better job of executing and we did an extremely poor job of executing in the second half,” said Georgetown coach John Thompson III, virtually steaming with disappointment after his squad’s third somewhat lopsided road loss of the season against elite competition (joining Memphis and Pittsburgh). “[Louisville was] extremely attentive and turned up the heat a little bit. … But I think it was more us not getting into our offense. There were too many times where we were just playing catch out there.”
Virtually the entire second half was a slow steady Louisville run, as the Cardinals responded to Georgetown’s early 10-point lead with a 21-4 march behind quick pivot David Padgett (career-high 18 points) and perimeter marksman Jerry Smith (16 points) to take a 44-37 lead they would never relinquish with 9:50 remaining.
The Hoyas finally snapped a scoring drought of more than seven minutes on a backdoor cut by Rivers with 8:08 remaining. But the Cardinals used a 24-4 advantage in free throw attempts to hold the Hoyas at arm’s length down the stretch.
Last night at Freedom Hall in Louisville, Ky.
SEEN AND HEARD
In honor of the “white out” for last night’s game against the Hoyas, Louisville coach Rick Pitino broke out a luminous white suit that absolutely begged for a cane and a fur coat. With the Cardinals down 31-23 at halftime, Pitino switched back into his traditional navy suit for the second half. The wardrobe change clearly worked.
BY THE NUMBERS
11 Years since Georgetown defeated Villanova at home. The Hoyas play host the Wildcats tomorrow night. The Hoyas have won 18 consecutive home games since last season’s loss to the Wildcats at Verizon Center.
1:22 Remaining in the first half when Louisville converted its first jumper, a 3-pointer from Jerry Smith. Louisville’s first five field goals all came on dunks or layups, as the Hoyas refused to allow any outside shots. The Cardinals finished the half with only seven field goals.
— Barker Davis