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February 23, 2008

Cincinnati at Georgetown Preview

Jonathan Wallace was on the Big East's preseason all-conference team, but, all told, his senior season at Georgetown hasn't gone as well as expected.

Lately, however, it couldn't be going much better.

Wallace and the No. 12 Hoyas look to move into sole possession of first place in the Big East on Saturday when they host Cincinnati, which is looking to win four straight for the first time this season.

Georgetown (21-4, 11-3) was alone atop the Big East before splitting its last four games to fall into a tie with Louisville for the conference lead. The No. 18 Cardinals visit Pittsburgh on Sunday.

Even though the Hoyas haven't quite looked like a preseason top-five team lately, Wallace has started to play like the star he became during the team's Final Four run last season.

Wallace was ninth in the nation in 3-point percentage (49.0) as a junior and averaged 15.3 points from the second round of the NCAA tournament until Georgetown was eliminated in the national semifinals. He hit 12-of-21 (57.1 percent) from beyond the arc in those four games.

As a senior, his numbers are down across the board, and he bottomed out during a five-game stretch from Jan. 26-Feb. 9. He averaged just 4.6 points on 33.3 percent shooting, and his touch from 3-point range (2-for-14) seemed to have disappeared.

But in his last three games, Wallace is averaging 18.3 points, hitting 13-of-23 (56.5 percent) from beyond the arc.

Georgetown trailed Providence 41-35 in the second half on Monday, but Wallace hit three 3s to spark a 17-2 run, and the Hoyas pulled away to win 68-58.

"We are aware of the situation and knew what we had to do," Wallace said. "(Two of those) 3s I hit came off screens set by teammates who knew where they had to be for the play to get me open. That was a collective effort for what we needed to do."

Roy Hibbert, the conference's preseason player of the year, had perhaps his best game in the past month against the Friars. The 7-foot-2 center finished with 18 points, six blocks and eight rebounds - four offensive.

"We stress offensive rebounding a lot in practice," forward Patrick Ewing Jr. said after grabbing four of the Hoyas' season-high 23 offensive boards Monday. "The shots weren't falling but when we get second shots like that it doesn't matter."

Georgetown is 9-0 when finishing with at least 12 offensive rebounds, and only one of those victories has not been by double digits.

As they did last season when they went 30-7, the Hoyas have typically been winning with defense. They were 11th in the nation - allowing 58.0 points per game - last season, and are fifth (57.5) in 2007-08.

Cincinnati (13-12, 8-5) has two more wins than Georgetown against Top 25 opponents this season, beating then-No. 19 Villanova and then-No. 15 Pittsburgh by three points apiece last month.

The Hoyas lost at Pittsburgh and undefeated Memphis in their only two games against ranked teams.

The Bearcats were picked to finish 12th in the 16-team Big East after finishing 2-14 in the league last season, but have been a pleasant surprise since conference play began.

They've won three straight Big East games for the first time since joining the league in 2005.

Those wins haven't been particularly pretty - the Bearcats have made just 40.8 percent of their shots, and only hit 33.9 percent in their 52-51 win over South Florida on Wednesday. Deonta Vaughn, the team's leading scorer at 17.4 points per game, had 21 in the victory.

"In the course of the season, you have to win when you are terrible on offense," coach Mick Cronin said. "The only thing we did well on offense was Deonta made some big shots."

The Hoyas have won 18 straight at the Verizon Center. They've won all three meetings with Cincinnati - by an average of 14.7 points - since the Bearcats joined the Big East.



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