- - Thursday, February 2, 2012

Georgetown coach John Thompson III is well-versed in the rigors of the rugged Big East, continually preaching to his team and anyone who will listen that the conference is unlike any other in the nation, a daunting gauntlet that can leave even the most prepared squads battered and bruised.

“I don’t know that any coach goes into any game in this league looking at standings and making the assumption of who’s good and who’s not,” Thompson said. “You’re going to win more ugly games in this league than pretty ones.”

Heading into Saturday’s contest against South Florida, winner of six of its past eight, the No. 14 Hoyas have handled themselves admirably in conference, going 7-3, while trying to maintain the quality of play that sparked their 11-game winning streak.

Georgetown (17-4) came into Big East play as one of the most efficient offensive teams in the nation, averaging 76.9 points. In conference play, however, the Hoyas are averaging 64.1 points — 11th in the 16-team conference.

Those figures include some ugly performances — a 49-40 snoozer over Providence, a 52-50 slugfest over Rutgers and a dispiriting 72-60 loss at Pittsburgh — that would suggest the rest of the league is on to the Hoyas’ game plan.

“The teams know the plays — that’s the Big East,” senior guard Jason Clark said. “It’s a lot harder to score. Both teams know each other so well that they make it tough on the other team to score.”

In the postgame news conference following Wednesday’s victory over Connecticut, which saw the Hoyas shoot 44 percent, Clark alluded to some behind-the-scenes tinkering before being quietly admonished by the PR staff.

“We were running some stuff that we’ve been working on that a lot of teams haven’t seen … they were having trouble guarding our offense,” Clark said.

Clark and forward Hollis Thompson have had their ups and downs in conference play.

Clark tallied a career-high 31 points against DePaul, but took just 13 shots against Rutgers and Pittsburgh before bouncing back with an 11-point game against UConn.

Thompson has been even more enigmatic. The sharpshooting junior is averaging 13.1 points during Big East play, just a shade off his 14.0 average for the season, but has disappeared for long stretches as opponents have focused on slowing him.

“I have a really short memory,” Thompson said. “If I miss a couple of shots, I forget about it.”

But for all Thompson’s bravado, that didn’t appear to be the case. Before his 18-point outburst against UConn, Thompson was just 12-for-32 from the floor and hesitant to fire up shots in the face of pressure.

“Lately, when he’s missed his first couple of shots, he’s kind of backed off,” the coach said. “That gets to shooters. We don’t anticipate him missing his first couple shots, but if that happens, or if [defenders] are really focusing on him, he can still impact the game in other ways. He needs to make sure that he’s still defending, rebounding, making hustle plays. That will open the shooting, the scoring back up.”

After Saturday, Georgetown will play four of its last seven on the road, never an easy task in the Big East as the Hoyas try to lock up a prime seed for both the conference and NCAA tournaments.

“We still focus on one game at a time,” Clark said. “But at the same time, you do look at your record and say ‘OK, we can’t lose any more games. We have to keep winning games.’ “

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