Hoyas look to Big East title for ticket to NCAA tourney

March 08, 1991|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Sun Staff Correspondent

NEW YORK -- It didn't take long after Georgetown coach John Thompson was seated before he was asked the question that has been echoing in his ears:

Do the Hoyas need to win the Big East tournament to advance to the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament? "I haven't really given a lot of thought to it," Thompson said. "All I know is, if we win the tournament we're in."

Sixth-seeded Georgetown (16-11, 8-8) plays third-seeded Connecticut (18-9, 9-7) tonight in the last quarterfinal game at Madison Square Garden.

In other games, fourth-seeded Seton Hall (19-8, 9-7) will face fifth-seeded Pittsburgh (20-10, 9-7); top-seeded Syracuse (26-4, 12-4) will face No. 8 seed Villanova (15-13), which beat No. 9 seed Boston College last night, 74-73; and second-seeded St. John's (20-7, 10-6) takes on seventh-seeded Providence (16-11, 7-9).

Georgetown reached its precarious position by dropping five of its last six games. The Hoyas' streaks of 13 straight 20-win seasons and 12 straight NCAA tournament appearances are in jeopardy.

"We just leave what happens to the selection committee," Thompson said. "Every year, there's speculation about who should be in, and one year there was a question about a team being in that won it -- North Carolina State. That's why sports is so much fun."

Connecticut will be a tough team for the Hoyas to get their needed win against. Led by second-team all-Big East guard Chris Smith (18.8 points per game), the defending Big East champions recovered from a 3-6 conference start to win six of their last seven conference games, including Saturday's 78-68 win at Pittsburgh.

The only Big East blemish after the dismal start was a 71-57 loss at Georgetown Feb. 23. The Huskies defeated the Hoyas, 61-55, Feb. 11 at the Hartford Civic Center.

"When you talk about them, you talk about their defensive pressure," Thompson said. "Offensively, Smith has to be contained because they have some other go-to guys. They have agility and ability from the perimeter."

The difference in the two games against Connecticut was the play of Alonzo Mourning. The 6-foot-10 Hoyas forward, whose play has been affected by a strained arch that kept him out of nine games, had five points in the loss and 20 points in the win. Mourning had probably his best game of the season in Georgetown's 62-58 loss at Syracuse on Sunday, scoring 24 points and grabbing a season-high 11 rebounds.

"We tried to get the ball to him as much as we possibly could so he could get himself going," Thompson said. "That was one of the goals, because getting him going is extremely important coming into tournament play."

Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said his team needs to shut down both Mourning and center Dikembe Mutombo -- a first-team all-conference pick and the Big East defensive player of the year -- if it is to advance to the semifinals.

"We have to make sure we shoot well and stop the two big guys," Calhoun said. "I personally think they're in the NCAAs. But if the kids don't feel that way, they might come in really fired up."

When Providence coach Rick Barnes was asked whether Georgetown belonged in the NCAA tournament, he responded, "I like the statement made by someone the other day: 'If they don't feel like they should be in, let them play [Georgetown] in the first round.' "

Thompson said the Hoyas are looking to settle the issue on the court, with the Big East tournament championship in mind.

"We worked hard to be expected to win. That's something we've spent a lot of time doing," Thompson said. "We still expect to win. We may not be realistic, but we expect to win this thing."

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