Published February 27. 2013 4:00AM
Storrs - This is as close as UConn will come the rest of the season to playing a postseason game.
Seventh-ranked Georgetown, the Big East leader, visits Gampel Pavilion tonight (7 p.m.) for a conference showdown.
It is the biggest game left for UConn, which finishes the season by playing on the road against Cincinnati and South Florida and home against Providence.
"These last games are our playoffs," junior Niels Giffey said. "That's the way we're preparing for it."
The Huskies (19-7, 9-5) can accomplish a great deal with a victory.
They'll reach the 20-win mark, a total that few outside the program considered possible entering the season.
They'll be guaranteed their first winning Big East season since 2008-09.
They'll keep their very slim regular season title hopes alive. They reside in sixth place, but can climb to within striking distance of the Hoyas (21-4, 11-3).
And they'll add to their upsets of ranked opponents that already include Syracuse, Notre Dame and Michigan State.
"It's just a great opportunity again to display what we're trying to build on throughout this year," coach Kevin Ollie said. "It's a great team. They're No. 1 in our league right now. It would be a great statement for us if we can come out with a win.
"But we want to play hard, we want to play aggressively. We want to have the best attitude in America and hopefully a win will follow that."
It may just take their best game of the season to knock off the red-hot Hoyas, who've won nine straight.
Ollie compared Georgetown to UConn's best Big East teams from the mid-1990's. The Hoyas are tough, disciplined and defensive-minded, ranking first in Big East action in scoring defense (56.4 points) and field goal percentage defense (37.3). They're also efficient offensively.
Georgetown has the best player in the Big East - multi-talented sophomore forward Otto Porter, Jr., who almost singlehandedly took down Syracuse Saturday by scoring 33 of his team's 57 points.
Ollie believes it will take a collective defensive effort to contain Porter, who leads the Hoyas in scoring (15.9) and rebounding (7.7).
"He's just a great player," Ollie said. "He's a typical wing player. He can put it on the floor. He can shoot at a high rate. I think he's leading the Big East in three point field goal percentage at 46 percent. He can get offensive rebounds. He can go down on the block.
"Anything else I missed? He can pretty much do it all."
Ollie's concerns don't stop with Porter. The Huskies have to find a way to score points against an extremely stingy defense. It is "paramount" that they crank up the fast break and rebound, according to Ollie.
They'll need an extra dose of patience, too. Georgetown often forces opponents to play defense for nearly the entire shot clock.
"They're the most disciplined team that we'll play," Ollie said. "They're the best team in the league defensive-wise, so if you're not getting easy buckets on them it's going to be very difficult to score.
"… If we rebound, we can get out on the break. But if we're not rebounding, it's going to be a tough game for us."
UConn's lethal backcourt trio can put pressure on Georgetown. Junior Shabazz Napier is playing at a high level, averaging 27.5 points in the last two games, and sophomore Ryan Boatright is coming off an impressive 17-point homecoming game in Saturday's win at DePaul. Freshman Omar Calhoun also has been productive despite a sore right wrist.
The Huskies realize what's at stake and the difficult task at hand. They're happy that they're playing the big game at Gampel Pavilion, which they prefer over the XL Center in Hartford.
"We definitely see it as a big game. …," Boatright said. "They're ranked top 10. They've been playing very well. And everybody thinks that they're going to make a deep run in the tournament, so we definitely see it as a challenge to prove ourselves, once again."