UConn dominated the first half of this game. They controlled the tempo, they cleaned the glass, and they forced Georgetown into difficult shots and turnovers.
Switch UConn and Georgetown in the previous sentence, and the exact same was true for the second half.
This afternoon at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC, UConn jumped out to a 19-point first half lead on the strength of their transition game before the Hoyas, led by 28 second half points from Austin Freeman, came storming back in the second half.
This game had everything you could ask for. A fantastic atmosphere; two teams leaving every ounce of energy they had on the floor; explosive dunks; clutch shooting; a finish that would send those with a faulty heart to the ER.
But that's not what you should take out of this game.
As entertaining as today's tilt was to watch, we are still talking about an early season conference match-up. But when it was all said and done, two of the better teams in the Big East played a nailbiter that the home team won by three. Come March, this game will be nothing more than one of hundreds, if not thousands, of exciting games played this season.
The story of this game wasn't the exciting finish, which, admittedly, was as entertaining and suspenseful as any these eyes have seen.
No, what any college hoops fan should take from this game is that we got to see just how good UConn and Georgetown can be.
And at the same time, how far away both clubs are from being perfect.
The Huskies thoroughly outplayed Georgetown in the first half. They forced turnovers and scored in transition. They held Georgetown to 29.6 percent shooting from the field and 2-10 from three, with that majority of those shots being contested jumpers. They dominated the defensive glass and scored 10 second-chance points. Essentially, they utilized their athleticism advantage to the fullest.
"In the first half, our execution, I thought, was horrible. And that's the only way to put it," Georgetown head coach John Thompson said. "We were just out there running around. Our focus at both ends of the floor was lacking. And [our team] realized it. And they decided at halftime: 'We're not going to do that.'"
Oh, and the Huskies shot 50 percent from the field.
"We came out and played our best basketball of the year in the first half," UConn coach Jim Calhoun said after the game. "We imposed out will inside and outside."
What makes that quote all the more impressive is the lack of production the Huskies got from their back court. While they did combine for nine assists, Kemba Walker and Jerome Dyson finished they half with a total of seven points on just 3-of-7 shooting.
The second half was a completely different story.
Georgetown was the aggressor for the final 20 minutes. The Hoyas scored in transition, they started to hit the offense glass, and they start to knock down jumpers.
But the biggest reason for the turnaround?
You see, part of the reason that Georgetown struggled so much in the first half was their inept offense. They allowed the Huskies to dictate what they wanted to do offensively. In the second half, the Hoyas moved the ball and ran their system, and as a result got a quality shot on seemingly every possession. When they did miss, they came up with the offensive rebound more than 50 percent of the time (of the 19 rebounds on that end during the second half, the Hoyas grabbed 10 of them).
"It was clear what was happening in the first half," Thompson said. "We would have a bad offensive possession that turned into an easy basket for them. We talked about getting better offensive possessions and positioning to get more rebounds."
It is easy to look at the box score and see Freeman's 28 points and assume he took over in the second half. And while that statement is partially true, the Hoyas weren't running isolations for Freeman. Every shot he took was in the flow of the offense. Every shot he made came off of a set that the Hoyas run.
The Hoyas were smart enough to know that one of their guys got rolling, so instead of Chris Wright or Greg Monroe settling for a difficult shot, they would continue to move the ball until the next time Freeman came off a screen. And more often than not, Freeman rewarded his teammates for their patience.
The saying normally goes "the best offense is a good defense." If that's true, than the Hoyas were the exception that proved the rule today. As Thompson said, "Our offense made our defense better. We were getting better shots and we were able to set up our defense."
UConn is a team that has to take advantage of mistakes made by their opponent. There may not be a better team in the country at scoring in transition, and the way to get transition opportunities is to push the ball on long rebounds and turnovers.
In the second half Georgetown shot well and protected the ball, which prevented UConn from getting opportunities in transition. As a result, UConn was forced to try and score in the half court, which is far from what one would call a strength for this team.
So while you are going to remember this game for Freeman's second half, Stanley Robinson's putback dunk, or a final five minutes that left you on the edge of your seat, I'll remember this game as evidence of why the Hoyas and the Huskies have the talent to make the Elite 8.
And why they are just as likely to get knocked out in the first round.
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