NCAA BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT : Providence, Syracuse Score Upsets : Friars Stun Hoyas, 88-73, by Relying on Inside Game

Times Staff Writer

Providence, a team that is known for its three-point shooting, abandoned the outside game Saturday against Georgetown--and the strategy worked.

Providence went inside to upset Georgetown, 88-73, in the NCAA tournament's Southeast Regional final before a crowd of 16,944 at Louisville's Freedom Hall.

Now Providence is going to the Final Four and will be matched against Syracuse in an all-Big East semifinal next Saturday at the New Orleans Superdome.

Syracuse upset North Carolina, 79-75, Saturday..

Providence Coach Rick Pitino, in deciding to forgo the three-point shot, knew that Georgetown would throw a defensive blanket over his outside shooters, Billy Donovan, Delray Brooks and Ernie (Pop) Lewis. John Thompson, the Hoyas' coach, had indicated that would be his strategy at a Friday press conference.

Georgetown and Providence, both of the Big East, had played three previous times this season. In their first meeting, Providence defeated Georgetown, 82-79. After that, Thompson decided to defend against the three-pointer, and the Hoyas won, 90-79, in another regular-season game and then won, 84-66, in the Big East tournament.

"I think we saw Providence one time too many," Thompson said after Saturday's game.

The Friars made only 5 of 9 three-point shots against Georgetown after converting 14 of 22 while upsetting Alabama, 103-82, in a regional semifinal game here Thursday night.

Donovan, a three-point specialist, took only one long-range shot and missed it. Brooks was scoreless and Lewis, who was in foul trouble, scored only seven points.

So the inside people became a factor. Center Steve Wright got 12 points and, more significantly, blocked seven shots as the Friars reversed roles with the Hoyas and were the smothering, opportunistic defensive team.

Forward David Kipfer scored 11 points and forward Darryl Wright (no relations to Steve) came off the bench to get 20 as the only prolific three-point shooter. He was 4 for 4.

Donovan, a 6-foot guard who was voted the most outstanding player of the Southeast Regional, got his points, however. He was 16 of 18 from the free-throw line and finished with 20 points.

"Ever since we've been in the tournament, every remark has attributed the Friars as a three-point shooting team," the 34-year-old Pitino said. "In one article, all our three-points shots were added up and it was said we would have won only 14 or 15 games under the old rules.

"That weapon was not going to be available today. We had only one day to prepare, to change our philosophy in order to win. We had to go inside until they got into foul trouble.

"I told our team that 90% of the time we have to play a certain way, but we had to change today."

It was a startling transformation. The Friars shot 54.3% (65.4% in the first half), which was good enough for them to prevail even though they were outrebounded by the Hoyas, 46-32. Thompson, who was denied an opportunity to send his team to the Final Four for the fourth time in six years, defended his game plan and praised Providence.

"We had to extend our defense because of their three-point shooting," he said. "What they did well and what hurt us early in the game is that their big people started to score. They hadn't done that in the past.

"Providence played with the kind of intensity that I respect. We never got into the kind of flow that we wanted to. When a team doesn't play well offensively, I attribute it to the opponents' defense."

Georgetown (29-5) shot only 34.2% from the field, and missed some inside opportunities to get back into the game after Providence (25-8) opened a 54-37 lead by halftime.

Reggie Williams, Georgetown's All-American forward, scored 25 points, but he missed on 14 of 23 shots. He got his fourth foul with 14:19 left and left the game for five minutes.

His last shot, with Providence comfortably ahead in the final minute, was an air ball.

Thompson had said earlier that if he had his choice of tournament opponents, Providence wouldn't be one of them.

The Friars, like the Hoyas, press full court. But Georgetown is usually the team that wears down an opponent, as it did in a 70-57 semifinal win over Kansas Thursday night. However, Providence was the more aggressive team Saturday.

It was an endline-to-endline battle for the first 12 1/2 minutes, and the score was tied five times.

Then, Providence began to move away and outscored Georgetown, 28-11, the remainder of the first half.

Georgetown couldn't appreciably cut into Providence's lead in the second half. The Hoyas did close to within nine points at 76-67 with 3:23 left, but Donovan then started trooping to the foul line.

"I told Donovan before the game that he wasn't going to be a factor from a scoring standpoint," Pitino said. "I told him that he had to make everybody better from a passing and moving standpoint."

Donovan, who had only two field goals, was content with his role, saying: "Georgetown was keying on Delray and myself. So we went inside."

Even though Providence was ahead by 17 points at halftime, Pitino was leery of the Hoyas.

"Georgetown is the best comeback team in America," Pitino said. "I told our players at halftime to imagine themselves in the Georgetown dressing room. I told them not to take their eyes off the basket and continue to attack."

And the Friars stayed on the attack, building a 68-52 advantage on Darryl Wright's three-point play with 12:55 remaining.

Early in the second half, Donovan pushed Georgetown guard Charles Smith and Smith pushed back. Then, Smith had to be restrained from going after Donovan.

Each team shot technical fouls, and there were no further incidents.

Said Smith: "We're both competitively tough. I don't know what happened."

Said Donovan: "We kind of bumped into each other and elbows were flying. It was no big deal, just two teams trying to go to the Final Four."

Surprisingly, that team is Providence. Now the question is will the Friars stay with their inside game against Syracuse, or revert back to relying on three-pointers?

Notes

At the end of the game, Providence rooters held up a sign that said: "Bobby: Delray is Coming." That was in reference to Delray Brooks having previously played for Bobby Knight at Indiana before he transferred to Providence. That sign won't be prophetic unless Indiana beats LSU today in the Midwest Regional final at Cincinnati. . . . Providence finished in a tie for fourth in the Big East regular-season standings. But Coach Rick Pitino said his team's surge through the tournament can be attributed to the improvement of Steve and Darryl Wright and Brooks. "They have raised their level of play to Billy Donovan's level," Pitino said. . . . The Providence reserves scored 41 of their team's 54 points in the first half. However, Steve Wright is a quick replacement for Jacek Duda, whose role is to jump center at the outset of a game. . . . This will be Providence's second appearance in the Final Four. The Friars got there in 1972-73, losing to Memphis State in the semifinals. . . . Providence lost both of its regular-season games to Syracuse. . . . Georgetown had won 14 straight games before losing to Providence.

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