By Sean Gormley Hoya Staff Writer

Coming off what is possibly the most exciting game in the history of Georgetown basketball, the Hoyas have a lot to live up to tonight when they travel west to take on the Golden Bears of California. Georgetown needed three overtimes before walk-on junior swingman Gharun Hester was able to hit the game winner against Virginia last Wednesday. In the second round of the National Invitation Tournament the Hoyas will face a California team that defeated Long Beach State to advance.

California, the defending NIT champions, are a young and inexperienced squad that finished the season in a tailspin, losing six of their last eight games prior to slipping past LBSU, raising the Bears’ record to 17-14. Among those losses was a 101-50 drubbing at the hands of Stanford and a three-point loss to Washington State, the Cougars only conference victory all season long.

Tonight will be the first-ever meeting between the Hoyas and the Golden Bears, and the teams only had one common opponent this season. Both teams defeated Houston early on in the season, with the Bears recording a 25-point victory in November and the Hoyas recording an eight-point victory in December. Both teams also sport a pair of victories over Sweet 16 teams, with Cal having defeated Gonzaga and UCLA, while Georgetown defeated Syracuse and Miami.

Junior 6-foot-7 forward Sean Lampley leads the Golden Bears, averaging 16.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. Lampley, last year’s NIT Most Valuable Player, is the Bears’ best defender and rebounder and gets the most looks on offense, having taken almost twice as many shots as anyone else on the team.

Running the point for Cal is freshman Shantay Legans, who is second on the team in scoring with 9.4 points per game and leads the team with 3.6 assists per game. In fact, after Lampley, the next five leading scorers for the Golden Bears are all freshmen, only one of whom is taller than 6-foot-5.

For Georgetown to continue their winning ways, they will have to exploit their height advantage over the Bears. The Hoyas have won three of four games and are winning contests they are not expected to win for the first time in almost three seasons.

These victories came despite a nagging foot injury to third-team All-Big East center Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje that has kept him out of two of the Hoyas’ last four games.

Sophomore point guard Kevin Braswell and junior bigman Lee Scruggs have taken the team on their shoulders as of late, with Scruggs averaging 20 points per game over the last four games. Braswell has averaged 6.3 assists and 22.3 points over that stretch, including his dominating 40-point performance in the Hoyas’ victory over Virginia.

Opposing coaches have had nothing but glowing reviews of this duo as of late. After Georgetown’s loss to Connecticut in the Big East semifinal, UConn Head Coach Jim Calhoun said about Scruggs “We couldn’t match him to man. He was that good . He’s 6-11 with a fall away. That’s virtually impossible to do that. He’s a terrific basketball player.”

After Georgetown’s amazing victory over Virginia, Cavalier Head Coach Pete Gillen had a similar reaction regarding Braswell, who dropped 40 points on his beleaguered defenders in a gutsy performance that left him requiring an IV after the game due to dehydration.

“He was phenomenal. He was just too quick, too clever, too cagey. Braswell was controlling the game,” Gillen said

While continued solid play by the Braswell-Scruggs duo is essential to victory, some other players are going to have to continue to step up.

Stopping Lampley will be the most important job for the forwards, and if Victor Samnick continues to be unavailable, freshman Courtland Freeman, junior Nat Burton and Hester will all have to raise the bar a notch.

Freeman will have to avoid the foul trouble that has plagued him as of late, while Hester must continue his scrappy and unexpectedly strong play.

The key to victory for Georgetown might very well rest on a duo that has not made much noise this season, however. Senior co-captains Rhese Gibson and Jameel Watkins provided much-needed leadership and experience in the battle with Virginia, with Gibson pulling down a career-high 13 rebounds and hitting a 15-foot jumper in triple overtime to keep the Hoyas alive. These two will have to again step up if Boumtje-Boumtje is unable to suit up again.

A Georgetown win will require the Hoyas to shoot well from the field, because California is a team that can run the floor and put up points, and when they lose, it is usually because their opponents outshoot and outscore them. The Bears scored at least 90 points four times, but they gave up more than 100 twice.

Good shot selection and strong offensive performances from the twin towers of Scruggs and Boumtje-Boumtje are what it will take to propel the Hoyas to the third round of the NIT and extend the seniors’ careers for at least one more game.

Related Links

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