- Associated Press - Thursday, March 17, 2011

CHICAGO | Georgetown point guard Chris Wright will be quite happy if he never sees a stair climber again.

Wright logged hours on the machine over the last three weeks, powerless to stop the Hoyas’ four-game losing skid because of a broken left hand. He’s back now, though, giving Georgetown hope the third part of its season will end better than the second part.

The sixth-seeded Hoyas (21-10) play 11th-seeded VCU, winner of one of the “First Four” games, in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Friday night.

“Having him back in our lineup is really good,” leading scorer Austin Freeman said Thursday. “Just to have his ability to penetrate, get to the basket, create his own shot and also be able to create shots for his teammates. It’s going to be good to have that back in our lineup, and also have his voice back on court. He’s one of our captains, one of our leaders, and to have that back on the court is going to be really big for us.”

After struggling early in the Big East season, Georgetown found its groove again with an eight-game winning streak that included victories at both Villanova and Syracuse. But with 15:54 left against Cincinnati on Feb. 23, Wright broke his non-shooting hand when he lost possession in the paint and committed a foul when he reached for the ball.

Wright had surgery the following day, and the Hoyas were optimistic they’d get him back for the NCAA tournament. The senior is Georgetown’s emotional leader, and the Hoyas were clearly befuddled without him. Georgetown averaged just 51.5 points in its last four games, all losses, and was embarrassed by both Cincinnati (22-point loss) and UConn (27 points).

Wright was averaging 13.1 points and 5.4 assists when he got hurt, and leads the team with 41 steals. In the last three games before he broke his hand, he was averaging 21.7 points on 50 percent shooting.

“It was tough knowing you can help and you can provide you can provide leadership for your team, and it was tough to sit through that,” Wright said. “I wasn’t looking at it as, ‘Gosh, I can’t believe this is it for me.’ I’m just trying to be there any way I could for my team.”

While Wright tried to be a cheerleader, the best way to help the Hoyas was to get back on the court as quickly as possible. Aside from all that time on the stair stepper — “Probably harder than anything I’ve ever had to do. That’s very hard. I don’t want to do it anymore.” — he took dozens of one-handed jumpers and layups so he’d be relatively in shape once he was cleared to return to full-contact practice.

That came Monday.

“Nothing is restricted or anything. Just go out there and play,” said Wright, who wasn’t wearing any kind of brace or wrap on his left hand during Thursday afternoon’s practice at the United Center and finished the session by swishing a half-court shot. “My teammates came up to me and said, ‘You look fine, you played fine.’ I wasn’t favoring it or anything. So I feel good.”

As thrilled as the Hoyas are to have Wright back, coach John Thompson III said they can’t fool themselves and think his absence was the only problem in the late-season skid. When asked what was missing, Freeman immediately said Wright.

“But it wasn’t just Chris. We didn’t step up. We didn’t make the hustle plays. We weren’t rebounding,” said Freeman, who leads Georgetown with 17.9 points a game. “It was big that we didn’t have (Wright) in the lineup, but it was also us, the other players that were playing.”

Added Thompson, “Everyone has to do their job. It’s not just, ‘OK, you plop Chris into the equation so that means it’s going to be smooth sailing.’ It’s not going to be that easy, especially against the opponent that we have.”

VCU (24-11) was much maligned after getting an at-large bid, skidding into Wednesday night’s game against USC with five losses in its previous eight games. But the Rams sure looked as if they belonged in their 59-46 win, outmuscling the bigger Trojans.

As one of the 11 teams from the big, bad Big East, the Hoyas could be forgiven for overlooking a mid-major team, especially one that didn’t even win its conference tournament. But memories of last year’s first-round loss to 13th-seeded Ohio — as a No. 3 seed — are still fresh in the Hoyas’ minds.

“One thing that we said at the beginning of the season is that we want to finish with our own legacy, not be remembered for the people before us and hopefully not after us,” Wright said. “It feels good in some ways that I can control that.”


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