- Dana O'Neil, ESPN Senior Writer
- 0 Shares
WASHINGTON -- Armed with boots, scarves, hats and the foolishness of youth, a pack of Georgetown students schlepped three-plus miles through a blizzard to the Verizon Center to see their Georgetown Hoyas play No. 2 Villanova.
Two hours later, they went back outside to find the same blizzard still howling and three more miles of pavement between them and a warm dorm room.
But this time they were walking on air.
They and the other 10,000 brave souls who found their seats inside the arena weren't merely rewarded with a 103-90 victory over Villanova -- they witnessed Georgetown assert itself as a team that should be included in the small pack of national championship contenders.
"We are as good as we want to be," Greg Monroe said.
Right now the Hoyas want to be pretty good. Georgetown sandwiched its surprising loss to South Florida on Wednesday with impressive beatdowns of Duke and Villanova.
Last Saturday they played in front of the president; this week they survived a snowstorm.
Bring on the locusts. The Hoyas are ready.
Georgetown downplayed this as any sort of statement game. John Thompson III not only refused to entertain the notion that it was such a game, he deflected the suggestion that his players had ever billed it as one.
But when the big and impressive wins come in mid-February, they invariably come with a statement. This is Georgetown's: they belong.
The Hoyas have everything they need to get through March -- a dominant big man in Monroe, lethal outside shooters in Austin Freeman and Jason Clark, a savvy point guard in Chris Wright and a reliable, if not deep, bench.
The great teams always have a little something extra: toughness, experience, smarts. In Georgetown's case, it's an unselfishness that Miss Manners would appreciate.
The team that looked so disjointed last season and was rumored to be done in by infighting is now playing with a "please, no you" offense. Against Villanova, Georgetown dished out 21 assists on 27 made baskets, swinging the ball with whiplash-inducing frequency to constantly find the open man.
The fact that the team's leading assist-maker was Monroe with six speaks volumes to that sharing mentality.
"We never try to force anything," said Freeman, who had a team-leading 25 points on 8-of-12 shooting. "We know if we don't have the opportunity for something, instead of forcing it, we're going to find the open man."
In this game it seemed like everyone was open, no one more than Clark. The sophomore, who prior to Saturday had never sunk more than four 3-pointers in a game or scored more than 20 points, matched his career-high output from the behind the arc and had 17 points in the first half.
With Villanova desperate to keep Monroe from dominating the game, Clark was left wide open time and time again.
He didn't disappoint. He finished with 24 points, draining 6 of 7 treys.
"After the first couple of shots, you get in the groove where you feel like you can't miss," Clark said. "So yeah, I knew it was going to be a good game after the first couple of shots."
The Hoyas, clearly ready to put that South Florida loss in the rearview mirror, rode Clark's sharpshooting to a staggering 19-point lead at intermission. The gap proved too much for the Wildcats to overcome and also revealed a chink in the Villanova armor.
The Wildcats can score and score in bunches; it's the other end of the floor where they struggle. Villanova is scrappy and feisty and pesky, but because of their lack of strength and size on the inside, the Cats have to sag on dominant big men like Monroe. Consequently, they leave shooters open -- the Hoyas sunk 10 of 19 3-pointers -- and rank just 11th in 3-point field goal defense in the Big East.
It's a problem the team has been able to overcome for 20 of its 22 games, but tellingly it also is the same problem that bit Nova in its only other loss. Temple drained 11 treys in its win against Villanova in December.
VU coach Jay Wright thought the Wildcats' defensive struggles were as much a testimony to Georgetown's offensive power as it was to their own deficiencies.
"I'm not that concerned," he said. "Once you're down 19 to a team like this, it's a different game. You don't want to come in here and press or trap this team, but then you don't have a choice. They get into that rhythm and then you're in trouble."
Indeed, the trouble kept on coming for the Wildcats. It just took different forms.
With Villanova pressing more to the perimeter, the Hoyas went from their bread to their butter, pounding the ball inside. They made just two 3-pointers in the second half, yet scored 53 points, driving the ball to the rim and either scoring or getting fouled. The Hoyas took 37 free throws in the second half alone, with Monroe (14), Freeman (eight) and Julian Vaughn (three) having great success every time they went inside.
It was a revelation of a potent inside-outside game that makes Georgetown so difficult to defend and such a player in the national scene.
It's a brutal pick-your-poison that Thompson has concocted -- a team that, as Monroe said, can only be undone by its own undoing.
OK, and maybe by a few feet of snow.
The Hoyas slept in a downtown hotel on Friday night to make sure they could get to their game on Saturday, but once the win was in the books, they had to figure out how to get home.
Told some other undergrads walked from campus, Thompson smirked.
"That's a great idea; you guys can walk back with your classmates," he said.
No doubt their feet wouldn't touch the ground. Not after a win like this.
Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at email@example.com.
8dESPN The Magazine