Sunday, December 19, 1999

XU used its chance 'to shock the world'




BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

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David West celebrates with coach Skip Prosser, left, and assistant Jeff Battle.
(AP photo)
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        The question was posed to Skip Prosser on Friday. If you could draft a player from the University of Cincinnati Bearcats and make him a Xavier Musketeer, whom would you want?

        “Alphabetically?” Prosser replied.

        So much talent. So many weapons. Prosser scarcely could contain his awe for UC and his apprehension at the task before him. He had not seen all the teams in college basketball, the Xavier coach said, but he was convinced the Bearcats were worthy of being No.1.

        Such a snow job. Such a sandbagger.

        Prosser's Muskies took the floor Saturday night cast as the Skyline Chili Crosstown Shootout's designated sacrifice and left it floating on a cloud of euphoria. They beat the Bearcats 66-64, and it was neither a fluke nor a fix.

        “We got a chance to do something real special,” Xavier's Darnell Williams said. “We had a chance to shock the world. It just shows if we play hard and play smart, we can play with almost anyone in the country.”

        The Gardens was packed with True Blue Believers, but many of them privately dreaded a mauling. UC was unbeaten, and Xavier had lost by 41 points to Kansas. The question was not so much whether Xavier could win but whether the Muskies would be embarrassed on ESPN.

        This is why they play the games: to get past the rhetoric and get at the truth. For the second time in four years, the Bearcats are No.1 in the nation and No. 2 in town.

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Maurice McAfee guards Steve Logan.
(Saed Hindash photo)
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        Alphabetically, this night was about Alvin Brown, Kevin Frey, Maurice McAfee, Lloyd Price, David West and Darnell Williams. Xavier was really only six deep with the academic suspension of Aaron Turner, and Williams may be the only one among them who could start for the Bearcats. But together, on this night, they were the better team.

        The Muskies made fewer shots. They grabbed fewer rebounds. They squandered leads with wacky decisions under pressure. But they made their free throws — 23 out of 30 altogether — and they made the big plays in the last minute. Then they rushed to embrace each other before the students stormed the floor and crashed the party at the final buzzer.

        Without Turner, their leading rebounder, the Muskies found muscle from Price and West. They got a big first half from Brown and some magical moments from McAfee and Williams. They played such disciplined interior defense in the first half that UC center Kenyon Martin was forced out on the floor, where his ball-handling deficiencies make him more of a liability. The Muskies made DerMarr Johnson, fresh from a 23-point performance in St.Louis, do a disappearing act.

        UC scored the game's first five points, and when Williams finally put Xavier on the scoreboard, someone in the student section flung a candy cane onto the court. It came to rest astride the center-court stripe, and Martin flicked it away.

        If there was any symbolism in this, it didn't stand up at the end of the evening. Martin had 17 points and 10 rebounds, but he would block only one shot and was charged with six turnovers. When he got the ball in the low post, the Muskies converged on him like children laying siege to a Christmas tree.

        “He had a great game,” Williams said. “We tried to make him think. We were playing mind games.”

        The difference was two points. The mind games may not have mattered. Conclusions could have been much different had the final minute worked out a different way.

        But part of the pleasure in winning a big game is the right to interpret it, to translate the subtext, to cackle, to crow. If the Muskies played the Bearcats 100 times — or just once on a neutral floor — maybe the parties don't get off the ground along Victory Parkway.

        Unless you're a UC fan, none of that matters now. If you're a Xavier fan, all that matters is one game on one night that for one moment means everything.

        Alphabetically, that would be A to Z.

        Tim Sullivan welcomes your email at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

Xavier upsets No. 1 UC again
This is why basketball is played
Verdict: UC good, not great
Frey big in second half, biggest in final minute
Brown, Williams key victory
Turner to miss 6 games