Game could be settled in the paint

Behind 7-2 Roy Hibbert, Georgetown will try to control the middle against Florida's nimble big men.

Published March 24, 2006


MINNEAPOLIS - When he arrived at Georgetown two years ago, Roy Hibbert was so awkward he would fall after he dunked.

Literally hit the floor.

When you're playing at a school that has produced such big-name centers as Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo, you can't just settle for being, well, average. So Hibbert "got into the gym, working as hard as I could" every spare moment, spending countless hours honing his skills and trying to develop his game.

"I always knew that if I worked hard, the results would show," said Hibbert, who averages 11.6 points and 6.9 rebounds. "I tried to work on repetitiveness, do the same move 20-30 times in a row, making sure I do it right every time, so when it shows up in a game it will be effective, and when people see it in a game they think it comes naturally. It comes with hard work."

His hard work has paid off.

When Florida (29-6) plays Georgetown (23-9) tonight in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 at the Metrodome, Hibbert will be the starting center and is expected to be a key component in the Hoyas' game plan.

It'll be the 7-foot-2 Hibbert vs. Florida's frontline of 6-9 Al Horford and 6-11 Joakim Noah trying to control the inside game. The right to advance to the Elite Eight could rest on this: Do Horford and Noah control the paint, or does Hibbert (with help from forwards Brandon Bowman and Jeff Green)?

The way Horford sees it, it's all about the ability to run the floor. Hibbert, who averages 23.9 minutes, quarterbacks the offense from the paint. Horford averages 25.6 minutes and, with Noah, can push the tempo and score in transition.

"That's the style we play and he's going to have to adjust," said Horford, who averages 11.4 points. "The bottom line is we're just going to run all night. If he's not in good enough shape, I feel bad for him. That's an advantage for us."

The Georgetown players are well aware of the Florida big men's penchant for running, which is why they've spent the week focusing not on what the Gators do well but what the Hoyas do well.

"They have really big guys that can run, and they push the ball in transition," Green said. "We have to pick up a man in transition and make sure we stop any transition buckets. ... But the key to winning this game is running our offense. It's not us vs. Florida. It is us vs. ourselves."

What Georgetown does well is control the tempo and force uptempo teams like Florida to slow it down. A big part of that halfcourt offense is Hibbert.

Although Horford at center will be given the primary duty of guarding Hibbert, the Gators said ultimately it will be defense by committee, including forwards Adrian Moss and Chris Richard.

But former Georgetown coach John Thompson, father of current coach John III, sees a classic matchup potential between Noah and Hibbert. He knows a thing or two about both. He has known Noah nearly the player's entire life. And he has watched Hibbert's development the past two years.

"Frenchy (his nickname for Noah) is quick and active, moving up and down the court," the elder Thompson said. "Roy is more of a power guy. Frenchy's mobility is what Roy and everybody on the frontline has to be worried about."

Florida coach Billy Donovan knows the Gators have their own worries with Hibbert.

"Hibbert is a guy you don't see a lot in college basketball because he has great size, very good hands," Donovan said. "John has done a great job over the course of the season with him, when you look at his growth and development. He's a problem because he can rebound, he's a very good, underrated passer, he can score, he does a lot of different things for their team. John has the luxury of playing him extended minutes and going with a very big team, but he also has the luxury of taking him off the floor and going very quick."

Florida has five starters averaging in double-figure scoring, which Thompson III said is the kind balance the Hoyas haven't seen much this season.

"They are quite unique in the sense that we haven't really seen many (teams), they are a great transition team, like Connecticut," he said. "I don't think we have really encountered a team where both big guys can really push the ball and are really fast like that."

How the Hoyas handle that "unique" Florida quality may determine tonight's outcome.