Hoyas Hope Third Time’s the Charm
Published: Friday, March 25, 2011
Updated: Saturday, March 26, 2011 10:03
For Georgetown (24-10), preparing for a matchup against Maya Moore and top-ranked Connecticut (34-1) is not unfamiliar. In fact, Sunday's Sweet 16 date with the Huskies in Philadelphia will be the third meeting between the two Big East foes in 30 days.
So what's going to be the difference this time?
"Our curveball is to make some shots," Head Coach Terri Williams-Flournoy said.
In their two prior meetings with Moore & Co., the Hoyas fell, 52-42 and 59-43, respectively, in defensive-minded struggles, shooting just 25.9 percent and 22.9 percent from the field in those games. The Blue and Gray were a combined 11-of-53 from beyond the arc in the pair of losses, more than 11 percent below their season average of 32.3 percent.
Thanks in large part to the red-hot play of standout sophomore guard Sugar Rodgers, however, the opening two rounds of the NCAA tournament have been a different story. No. 5-seeded Georgetown has converted 23 of 46 attempted treys — a 50 percent average — in consecutive blowout victories over dangerous opponents, including a 22-point dismantling of No. 4-seeded Maryland on the Terps' home court.
The No. 1 Huskies are undeniably the class of women's basketball, but the surging Hoyas are far from intimidated.
"We're not scared. I mean, we're very confident. Do we understand the magnitude of our opponent? Yes. Do we understand that we have to be sharp defensively and offensively? Absolutely," senior guard Monica McNutt said. "But we believe in ourselves, and we're very confident. We think we're capable of [winning]."
"Now the adrenaline and the confidence that [we] take going into the Sweet 16, to play UConn on a neutral court, is absolutely great," Williams-Flournoy said.
While a pairing with arguably the best team in women's college basketball history may seem unfavorable for Georgetown, the teams' mutual familiarity makes the task of upending the two-time defending champs less daunting.
"I think it is a little bit of an advantage. I think knocking a team off three times in a row is tough," McNutt said. "UConn is special. … But they're a Big East opponent, and I think being so familiar with them allows us to really hone in on the things that we really need to sharpen up defensively and understand what we'll probably be able to get offensively."
In their regular-season meeting, it was Moore who hurt the Blue and Gray with a game-high 20 points. In the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament, however, Georgetown amazingly held the Big East player of the year to a meager six points in one of the worst performances of her illustrious career. Unfortunately for the Hoyas, it was 6-foot-5 freshman center Stephanie Dolson who dashed their hopes with 24 points and eight rebounds.
"We probably won't ever again hold Maya Moore to six points. She's just too good of a player," Williams-Flournoy said. "For us to do that that night was incredible, but to give Dolson 24 doesn't help us to win the game."
While it may be nearly impossible to shut down both threats and contain dangerous double-digit scoring guards Bria Hartley and Tiffany Hayes, Georgetown will have to come close. But if any team has a chance of beating UConn with defense, it's the Hoyas.
With their trademark press and defensive intensity, the Blue and Gray held the Huskies to their lowest and third-lowest scoring outputs of the season, forcing a combined 47 turnovers in their first two meetings. Georgetown's success this season has often come from turning turnovers into points, but their offensive success can also help put teams under heightened pressure. In a vicious cycle, their defense sparks their offense and vice-versa.
"We can hit shots that allow us to get into our pressure, and our pressure causes problems for teams," McNutt said. "Even if they beat the pressure, [the Huskies] are not coming down with a 20 second shot clock like they were at the Big East tournament. It's a little less time, a little bit more pressure."
Despite UConn's offensive threats, Georgetown will not be the only team on the court faced with the task of coping with offensive star power. Rodgers, the Big East's second-leading scorer behind Moore, outscored the entire Princeton offense in the first half of Georgetown's first-round NCAA matchup and lifted the Hoyas over the Terrapins with a career-high 34 points in the second round Additionally, McNutt — who is fighting to extend her college career — is always a threat with 10.3 points per game.
Off the bench, junior guard Alexa Roche showed her potential with 10 points against Maryland, and Georgetown will need solid performances from its substitutes against UConn as the Lady Hoyas' up-tempo style of play necessitates substitution. In contrast, Head Coach Geno Auriemma and Connecticut almost exclusively play a six-player rotation.
Georgetown may be in its third-ever NCAA tournament and its first Sweet 16 since 1993, but it has already proved that a program's past doesn't dictate its present. Nineteen-time NCAA participants and 2006 national champions Maryland learned that lesson the hard way.
"It's incredible. It's a perfect formula. How many teams wish they could be peaking in the NCAA tournament?" McNutt said. "We're doing that. To still be playing right now, it's great. I've never been playing this late."
Tip-off is set for noon Sunday at the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia.