Sunday, February 13, 2000

XU's Price on roll after injury




BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Lloyd Price looked at his left ring finger last Saturday and he saw bone. He dreaded disaster.

        It's not normally a good sign when the skeleton breaks through the skin, and it's particularly troubling when it happens in the middle of a game in the middle of a season when your whole world is not much bigger than a basketball. Price left the floor last week at George Washington leading Xavier in both scor ing and anxiety.

        “So many things went through my head,” Price said. “It was kind of scary. I had flashes of, "I can't play any more. How will this affect me? What if it's broken?' It made me appreciate a lot more the privilege I have.”

        College basketball was important to Lloyd Price a week ago, but it has since grown a little more precious. His finger has been stitched and his focus has been tightened. He has been reminded of the fleeting nature of physical gifts and the need to make maximum use of them. There is, it seems, more purpose to his play. More points, too.

        The Xavier sophomore returned to the starting lineup Saturday for the first time since his finger was dislocated. He scored a career-high 28 points, matched his career re bounding mark with 11, and led the erratic Musketeers to an 87-77 victory over the University of Massachusetts.

        Was it coincidence or cause-and-effect? You make the call.

        A dislocated finger on a non-shooting hand falls somewhere between a pulled hamstring and a hangnail on the sports suck-it-up severity scale. Basketball players often push bones back into place without seeking a medical opinion. (How else could Darnell Williams' pinky

        get so crooked?) That said, Lloyd Price's injury was initially deemed sufficiently severe to threaten his season.

        “When it first happened, someone told me it was a compound fracture and that he was done,” Xavier coach Skip Prosser said. “In the second half, someone came to me and said, "Lloyd's ready.' I wondered, "Where has he been? Has he been to Lourdes?' ”

        Miraculous recoveries notwithstanding, Price could not contribute much that afternoon in Washington. He was held scoreless for the first time this season, and was subsequently held out of practice as a precaution.

        Prosser wondered about the wisdom of taking Price on the road to Canisius, but relented on the theory that foul problems might leave him short of players. Price wound up playing 27 productive minutes, forgetting his tender finger long enough to score 14 points, grab 10 rebounds and secure Xavier's first road win in a month.

        “I think hurting the finger has helped me focus on my game, on what I have to do,” Price said Saturday. “If I'm going to take a shot and I'm thinking about my finger, I'm going to miss it.”

        Ideally, Price would have the time to heal properly. Pragmatically, the Muskies can not spare him. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and the sense of urgency surrounding Xavier basketball is currently acute.

        “We don't want to go down in history,” guard Maurice McAfee said Saturday, “as the team that under-achieved.”

        Still the only stain on the University of Cincinnati steamroller, the Muskies have to be America's most maddening team. They have lost by 41 and won against No.1. They have scored 40 points and 97 in consecutive games. They have won five in a row and lost four in a row. They are schizophrenia in short pants.

        Saturday's victory improved Xavier's record to 15-8, which puts Prosser and his players on a fast track to the National Invitation Tournament. To crack the NCAA's 64-team field — which is to the NIT what Mecca is to Muncie — Xavier will likely have to win the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

        They won't win it playing as sloppily as they did Saturday, with unforced errors and ill-considered shots, but they might make a March run if the Muskies all adopt Lloyd Price's newfound passion.

        “We have to play with a tremendous resolve right now,” Prosser said. “We're playing for our basketball lives. Every game is Armageddon.”

        No game is Armageddon, of course. Not even the Crosstown Shootout. But if the Muskies don't start playing as if their whole season is at stake, they won't have much of a season left to play.

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

Xavier 88, UMass 77
Turner's provides needed 'energy'

SULLIVAN ARCHIVE