- The Washington Times - Friday, January 22, 2010

WASHINGTON | Chris Wright has a simple comeback for anyone wondering how long Georgetown can keep winning, given that five players are carrying nearly the entire load.

“We’re 20, 21 years old,” the junior guard said. “It ain’t no time to be worn out. We’re still kids. We’ll be worn out when we get to 35, 40.”

Fair enough, and it’s hard to dispute so far. The No. 12 Hoyas have been a steady climber all season and ended Pittsburgh’s 31-game home winning streak Wednesday. Georgetown (14-3, 5-2) is a virtual lock for next week’s top 10 if it beats Rutgers on Saturday, further putting last year’s disappointing NIT season in the rearview mirror.

“We’re a lot more mentally strong,” forward Julian Vaughn said. “We believe in each other a lot more than we did last year.”

Apparently, they are physically stronger as well, or at least they have more stamina. The Hoyas’ reliance on the starting five is staggering: Of the 500 points the team has scored in Big East play, only 24 have come from the bench.

Greg Monroe, Austin Freeman, Jason Clark, Wright and Vaughn have also played 82.5 percent of the minutes in those seven conference games. Four are averaging more than 33 per game, with Vaughn not far behind at 27.

“I’ll just take some Advil,” Vaughn joked. “I’ll be fine.”

While the results have been impressive and surprisingly balanced — the starters almost seem to take turns deciding which one will be the star player any given night — there’s also little room for error. If one of the top five gets hurt or finds himself in foul trouble, coach John Thompson III will have to call on some rusty reserves.

No wonder Thompson was giving his knuckles a workout when he met with reporters this week in the lobby of the school’s gymnasium. The coach rapped his hand on the wooden frame of a trophy display case several times.

Knock on wood that his team has remained focused. Knock on wood that his players have bounced back after tough games. And knock on wood that the five-man brigade is holding up.

“Everything is a feel in what seems right,” Thompson said. “This year, we have a core group that’s playing significant minutes and that’s different from what we’ve had since I’ve been here. I think that’s probably the best for this unit right here.”

Thompson has used the same starting five for every game this season. Freshmen Hollis Thompson and Jerrelle Benimon are the only subs averaging more than 10 minutes in Big East play — as well as the only two subs who have scored in conference play.

It doesn’t help that the program has been drained by transfers — at least five have left for other schools in the last three years — leaving Thompson with a bench that consists of four freshmen, a sophomore and a transfer walk-on.

That puts a bit more pressure on the starters to stay on the floor. Wright said he is conscious of the fact that he needs to stay out of foul trouble, but he can’t sacrifice any part of his game because of it.

“It’s hard not to be aggressive, and it’s something that we want to do,” Wright said. “We just try to stay out of foul trouble and keep playing. It’s not rocket science.”

And if there is foul trouble, Thompson went out of his way to express the confidence he has in his bench — even if the numbers don’t show it.

“It’s not like I sit in my head and I’m saying, ‘OK, Chris Wright is going to play 38 minutes a game. If it so happens that he has 32 — woooo! — the bottom just fell out.’ That’s not how we feel,” the coach said. “Those guys are ready and waiting to get the opportunity to go out there.”

When told his short rotation has been a success this season, Thompson reached down and rapped his knuckles on the wood twice.

“So far,” he said.

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