On Wednesday, the Hoyas’ failure to grab key rebounds – both on the offensive and defensive ends of the court – cost the squad a victory at West Virginia. Tomorrow, Georgetown will be forced to rebound, literally and figuratively, against a tough University of Connecticut team that not only averages 11 more rebounds than their opponents, but is also 13-1 (1-1 Big East).

Though the Hoyas (10-3, 2-1 Big East) were only outrebounded 33-29 Wednesday, the team’s inability to control senior forward Mike Gansey (five offensive rebounds, 10 overall) and senior center Kevin Pittsnogle (eight defensive boards, nine overall), was a noticeable factor in a second half in which Georgetown was outscored 47-38.

Wednesday’s contest was not the first time the Hoyas have had trouble in the paint. In their first loss of the year against Vanderbilt, Georgetown actually enjoyed a 29-28 rebounding advantage, but in their second loss at Illinois, the Hoyas were outrebounded 41-29. Despite a 79-65 Georgetown victory just last weekend against St. John’s, it was the Red Storm who claimed a 25-21 advantage on the glass.

As effective as Pittsnogle was on the glass, his Georgetown counterpart, Roy Hibbert, was equally ineffective. Though he did drop 16 points, the big man managed just two total rebounds. In November’s loss to Vanderbilt, Hibbert, the Big East’s tallest player, was similarly unproductive, failing to secure a single rebound.

Similar woes will not cut it against No. 4 UConn. Jim Calhoun’s Huskies have averaged 45.7 rebounds per game, while they’ve held their opponents to 34.3. They enjoy equally sizeable advantages at both ends of the floor.

After romping over most of their early opponents (save for a nail-biter of a victory over Gonzaga in the Maui Classic), the Huskies have recently been forced to play a series of close games. onday, they defeated Cincinnati 70-59 in a game that was tight from start to finish.

Two days earlier, Connecticut barely squeaked past LSU, 67-66. The Huskies needed a runner with 20 seconds left from sophomore guard Marcus Williams to grab the victory.

For Williams, the game-winner came in his second game of the season. After missing the first 11 games serving a suspension, he returned to action on Jan. 3 against Marquette, and the results were not pretty. Behind Marquette senior forward Steve Novak’s 41 points, the Golden Eagles walked over the Huskies, handing Connecticut its first loss of the year, a lopsided 94-79 decision.

UConn is led by sophomore forward Rudy Gay. A year ago, Gay averaged 11.8 points and 5.4 rebounds, and along with Georgetown’s sophomore forward Jeff Green, was named Big East co-Freshman of the Year. This season, Gay has been solid, averaging 15.5 points and 6.3 boards. Senior guard Rashad Anderson (14.7 points per game, 45.7 percent three-point shooting) and senior forward Denham Brown (10.2 points per game) have complimented Gay nicely.

The Huskies’ post presence comes in the form of the lanky Hilton Armstrong. Armstrong, a 6-foot-11, 235-pound senior, has averaged 9.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per game. Junior forward/center Josh Boone has also been effective down low, posting 9.8 points and 6.6 rebounds.

To win on the road, the Hoyas will need to bring their `A’ game, and even that may not be enough. Second-leading scorer Brandon Bowman (11.0 points per game), a senior forward, will need to improve upon his performance against the Mountaineers, one in which he notched just four points on 2-for-7 shooting, grabbed six rebounds, committed four fouls, and lost four turnovers.

Senior guard/forward Darrel Owens, the sixth man, was positively spectacular in his 24 point outburst against St. Johns, but suffered perhaps his worst game of the season against West Virginia, scoring a mere four points on 2-for-5 shooting (0-3 from behind the arc). He fouled out and was hit with a technical foul in the process. The extra free throws rewarded to West Virginia at the end of the second half were a large part of their victory.

The Hoyas allowed the Mountaineers 50 percent shooting from three-point land in the lack-luster second half. If Connecticut enjoys similar success, Georgetown likely will not emerge from the Hartford Civic Center victorious.

John Thompson III’s squad also needs to regain the turnover advantage that they enjoyed against St. Johns if they are going to be successful against the squad that many consider the Big East’s best and the team most likely to knock off Duke. Against WVU, the Hilltop Gang forced just eight turnovers, while committing 11 of their own. To be fair, on the season Georgetown has been one of the nation’s most careful teams, committing just 12.2 turnovers per game.

Finally, to beat a team like the Huskies the Hoyas will need to avoid the peaks and valleys that tend to accompany their three-point oriented offense. If the Hoyas hope to defeat the Huskies, they can ill afford the streaky, inconsistent scoring exhibited against the Mountaineers.

No matter how you dissect the statistics – and they can be sliced and diced any way you’d like them – the bottom line is that the Hoyas will simply need increased discipline, intensity and consistency to defeat the 2004 national champs. Georgetown will try to rebound tomorrow at the Hartford Civic Center, in Hartford, Conn. at noon.

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