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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Washington Times - Hoyas sink after break

Hoyas sink after break
By Barker Davis
December 23, 2007

Center Roy Hibbert had the same number of turnovers (three) as field goals in visiting Georgetown's loss to Memphis.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Hoyas should hope they did better on their recently completed off-court exams.

The much-anticipated top-five Matchup on the Mississippi devolved into little more than a riverside rout of No. 5 Georgetown. Boosted by a superb second-half defensive effort, No. 2 Memphis proved worthy of its billing with an 85-71 win yesterday at FedEx Forum.

The Hoyas (8-1) have to sit on their first loss of the season for a week before returning to the court Saturday at Verizon Center against American.

If John Thompson III's postgame mood is any indication, it will be a less merry Christmas on the Hilltop than expected.

"Stating the obvious, we have a long way to go," Thompson said after the Hoyas loss for just the second time in their last 18 games and the first time since last season's Final Four loss to Ohio State. "At the end of the day, I felt like our offense let us down."

That letdown was personified by 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert.

Entering the game, everybody knew the Hoyas would have trouble defending the Tigers' backcourt duo of Chris Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose. So it wasn't much of a surprise when they combined to total 42 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.

But if Memphis (10-0) was expected to rule the perimeter, Georgetown's offensive trump was thought to be preseason All-America center Hibbert (six points, six rebounds), the anchor of the team's superior inside game.

Apparently, neither Hibbert nor supposedly offensively limited Memphis pivot Joey Dorsey (11 points, 13 rebounds) got that memo.

Early in the game, when Georgetown had complete control of the pace and the lead, Hibbert made uncharacteristic errors against the Tigers' quick double teams. He had more traveling violations in the first 22 minutes (two) than field goals (one), a fact that was even more disconcerting given that the 6-9 Dorsey was on the bench in foul trouble for most of the first half.

And during the game's critical stretch, when Dorsey returned and Memphis began pulling away near the midway mark of the second half, Hibbert was tentative.

In fact, he seemed intimidated by Dorsey, at least three times catching passes in perfect scoring position with Dorsey on his back and no help coming ... only to pivot away from the basket and give up the ball.

When Douglas-Roberts cleaned up a couple of free throws with just more than seven minutes left to stretch the Memphis lead to 65-54, Hibbert had two points on five shots against the first team this season that defended the Hoyas almost exclusively with man-to-man defense. Even his postgame comments were passive:

"I need to make myself more assertive," Hibbert said. "At the beginning of the game, I didn't do that. I put that on myself. I need to make sure in the next couple of games that I dominate as best I can."

Thompson isn't asking for dominance, but yesterday it was hard to tell whether Hibbert was even in attendance. Given the magnitude of the game, it's staggering that Hibbert didn't make a single trip to the free throw line.

Of course, Dorsey's defense caused much of Hibbert's ineffectiveness. The reigning Conference USA Defensive MVP had pointed toward this game for months as a stage to show the NBA scouts in attendance his skills. Oft-criticized for his erratic play, Dorsey didn't disappoint yesterday.

"When we play against teams we know we're going to beat, it's hard to get up," Dorsey said. "But against a great team like Georgetown, everybody's going to bring it. I really wanted this matchup for myself ... to show people I can handle a great player in the spotlight."

Hibbert was hardly the lone culprit in the loss, however. As a whole, the team played with a lack of passion and intensity.

Leading 33-25 with 5:07 left in the first half and Memphis flagging, the Hoyas had the chance to stick an early sword in the Tigers with the capacity crowd of 18,864 blue-clad fans in attendance mostly silent. Instead, the team took a series of forced shots early in the clock, fueling Memphis' transition game that helped the Tigers surge to a 43-40 halftime lead.

And a pair of familiar weak spots from this season and last doomed the Hoyas in the second half, when Georgetown made only 12 of 23 free throws (52.2 percent) and gave up 19 offensive rebounds.

Hoyas report

Yesterday at FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tenn.

SEEN AND HEARD

Former Washington Wizards guard Rod Strickland is in his second season as a member of the Memphis staff and holds the title of director of student-athlete development. Members of the national media who had dealt with Strickland in the past tried to keep a straight face yesterday when exchanging greetings with the newfound role model.

QUOTABLE

"I didn't think we needed a wake-up call. But trust me, we will learn and improve from this game."

— Georgetown coach John Thompson III

BY THE NUMBERS

16.7 Free throw percentage for Georgetown sophomore forward Vernon Macklin, who missed all four of his attempts yesterday.

— Barker Davis

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