We Are Georgetown and You’re Not: Hoyas prepare for Utah with Sweet 16 at stake

PORTLAND, OREGON — Fresh off their 84-74 win Thursday night against 13-seed Eastern Washington, the four-seeded Georgetown men’s basketball team (22-10, 12-6 Big East) will face five-seed Utah (25-8, 13-5 Pac 12) in the Third Round of the NCAA Tournament Saturday night. Tip-off is set for approximately 7:45 p.m. EST.

Against the Utes, the Hoyas will look to earn a spot in the coveted Sweet 16 for the 12th time in program history, as well as for the first time since 2007.

“We’re not here, we’re not playing in this tournament to say we won one game,” Georgetown Head Coach John Thompson III said during his press conference with the media Friday. “That’s not why we’re in this thing. I think our teams feel we still have some unfinished business, and we’re anxious and excited to play tomorrow.”

In their win against Eastern Washington, the Hoyas put to rest the program’s recent NCAA Tournament woes against double-digit seeds. Junior guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera scored a team-high 25 points, his ninth game this season with 20 or more points, to lead Georgetown, who had four players score in double-figures.

Spearheaded by the stellar play of junior center Bradley Hayes, freshman guard Tre Campbell, and senior forward Aaron Bowen, the Hoyas received 45 points from their bench, including 17 during a crucial 22-7 run over the last seven minutes of the first half that effectively put the game out of reach.The 45 points scored by the bench were the most by the Hoyas since they scored 49 against Loyola (MD) during the 2010-11 season.

Hayes, in particular, stepped up mightily for a Georgetown team plagued by early trouble in their frontcourt. The seven-footer from Jacksonville, Fl. had career-highs in points, eight, and rebounds, six, in 10 minutes played to lead the Hoyas’ second-unit.

“I just try to do whatever I can to contribute to my team. I really want to help my team out.” Hayes said in the team’s locker room prior to their practice at the Moda Center Friday. “Especially for the seniors. This is their last run. So if I get in, and I can help my team in any way keep going and make the seniors run go longer, that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Moving on to the Hoyas’ opposition, Utah defeated 12-seed Stephen F. Austin (29-5, 17-1 Southland) 57-50, in the game preceding Georgetown’s Thursday night. Freshman forward Jakob Poeltl was perfect from the field, making all seven of his field goal attempts, to lead the Utes with a game-high 18 points as well as a team-high eight rebounds. Junior forward Jordan Loveridge scored 12 points while senior guard Delon Wright added 11.

Wright, Poeltl, and the three-point shooting duo of Loveridge and junior guard Brandon Taylor paced Utah this season, who finished tied for second in regular season standings of the Pac 12 Conference, and are making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2009.

An 1st Team All-Pac-12 selection this season and potential first-round selection for this June’s NBA Draft, Wright does a little bit of everything for Head Coach Larry Krystkowiak’s squad. He leads the Utes in scoring, averaging 14.9 points per game, and assists, 5.3 per game, and is second on the team in rebounding, 4.9 per game. Thompson called him “one of the best players in the country” during Friday’s press conference.

Poeltl, who captained the U-18 Austrian National Team during the 2013 European Championships, is the Utes’ leading rebounder, averaging 6.9 rebounds per game, and scores 8.7 points per game. A great rim protector, the seven-footer also averages 1.8 blocks per game.

“He’s such a presence down there, at both ends of the court,” Georgetown Head Coach John Thompson III said of Poeltl. “We’re going to have to be active, aggressive. Our communication tomorrow is going to have to be very good with each other.”

The matchup between Poeltl and Georgetown senior center Joshua Smith will be certainly one to watch. Plagued by early foul trouble against Eastern Washington, the UCLA transfer had just four points in just seven minutes of playing time for the Hoyas. He knows he can do better.

“I just have to stay on the floor, move my feet, and show my hands. Yesterday I was lucky that my teammates came to play and played well,” he said.

But Poeltl presents a different test than most big men who have faced Smith this year, due in large part to his size. The UCLA transfer, however, knows what he has to do stop the Austrian from putting together an impressive stat-line two games in a row.

“A lot of the times, the guys I go against, I’m bigger. And even if I’m not taller than them, I still got a little more girth,” Smith said. “But he’s mobile. He can do a lot of things. I just got to be physical with him and try and limit him.”

Loveridge leads the Pac-12 in three-point field goal percentage this season, as he has made 44.3 percent of his shots from long distance this distance. Taylor, the team’s second-leading scorer, averaging 10.4 points per game, is currently fourth in three-point shooting in the Pac-12, as he converted 43.6 percent of his attempts from downtown. Overall, the Utes have shot 40.1 percent from three-point range this year, the ninth-highest percentage in all of college basketball.

This will certainly present a challenge to the Hoyas, who are 243rd in the country in three-point shooting defense. Only six teams (UCLA, Ole Miss, Wisconsin, North Dakota State, West Virginia, and Eastern Washington) in the NCAA Tournament field of 68 teams fared worse against three-ball this season.

“We just have to stay in front of them. When Delon [Wright] gets edges, gets into the lane, he’s a really good passer in finding his teammates,” Trawick said. “If we stay in front on pick and roll, do well on the pick and roll defense, I think we’ll be fine. When they get edges, that’s when they start getting three-pointers. We just want to stand in front of the guys and play great help defense.”

Although impressive with their three-point shooting ability, Utah is defined primarily by their defense. Opposing teams only managed to average 56.7 points per game this season against the Utes, the 11th-best scoring defense in college basketball, in addition to holding their opponents to just 38 percent shooting from the field, the sixth-lowest opposing field goal percentage in the country. Thompson had nothing but praise for them.

“They’re big, they’re versatile. They do a good job of just staying in front of you. There’s no easy basket,” Thompson said of Utah’s defense. “You watch tape after tape after tape. No one gets an easy basket against them. They really make you work every possession to get a decent look.”

But Smith-Rivera feels the Hoyas can have their way on offense against the Utes.

“I think we have a lot of offensive weapons that it will be pretty hard for them to contain everything,” Smith-Rivera said. “I think as long as we execute pretty well, I think we’ll be fine. We’re a pretty good defensive teams ourselves. So it will be a battle.”

Despite the difficulty of the game with Utah, Thompson is happy with his team’s play as of late heading into their matchup with the Utes, the first ever meeting between the two schools.

“I think we’re at a good spot,” Thompson said. “At this point, the teams that are going to win are teams that feel good about themselves, teams that execute, teams that have players step up like Bradley Hayes yesterday. That’s what this tournament is about. Those teams, those players that step up, that’s who is going to progress.”

But Thompson and his team are not satisfied with just winning Thursday against Eastern Washington. He believes his team still has a lot more to accomplish in this tournament and that starts Saturday night against Utah.

“You enjoy winning when the moment’s over, and we’re still in the moment.”

Photo: Georgetown University

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