Saturday, December 18, 1999

XU needs Williams' poise, scoring


Senior's struggles must come to end

BY MICHAEL PERRY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Darnell Williams hopes to take a different approach tonight. He's going to try to relax for a change.

        The Xavier senior, a veteran of three Crosstown Shootouts, said he has been putting too much pressure on himself to break out of his shooting slump. He would miss a few shots early, then stop putting it up.

        “I let it bother me,” he said. “So I'm just letting the game come to me.”

        The Musketeers, who play host to top-ranked Cincinnati at 9 tonight, are counting on Williams to bring experience, poise and leadership into what probably will be the wildest and most intense environment the team will see all season.

        In addition, Xavier could use some offensive production from Williams, who is averaging 12.6 points a game — third on the team. He is shooting just 35.8 percent from the field; he has never shot less than 50 percent for a season in his career.

        One reason his shooting percentage is down is a lack of fast-break points and easy baskets slashing through the lane. Williams does not drive to the hoop as often as he did before his June 1998 knee surgery, which forced him to sit out last season.

        “I think that physically he's fine, for the most part,” coach Skip Prosser said. “In Alaska (Great Alaska Shootout), with three games in three days, there was no significant swelling. Having said that, he's not really playing with the explosiveness that he played with prior to the surgery.

        “It's a concern, because for us to compete well in the Atlantic 10, he's got to be a very good scorer for us and a very good defender for us, and to this point that hasn't been the case. We know he's a good player; he's a wonderful kid; and he's trying very hard, but we just need more production.”

        Especially tonight. Xavier is going to need all the scoring punch it can get, and shooting well from the perimeter is a must. Williams' defense also will be important.

        He will be matched against Cincinnati freshman DerMarr Johnson, who scored 23 points at Saint Louis on Thursday night and is averaging 14.8 points and 3.1 rebounds a game. At 6-foot-9, Johnson has a 4-inch height advantage on Williams.

        “Just another player,” Williams said. “You've just got to play him.

        “It's not a one-on-one thing, it's a team game. We've all got to play well. ... After they play seven, eight games, freshman status goes out the window. He's started every game.”

        As a freshman, Williams went 11-of-15 from the field and had 24 points and six re bounds against the Bearcats. But his next two games against UC, he averaged five points on a combined 4-of-19 shooting.

        “I really don't think we can just put it on (Williams), but being the most experienced guy in this game, it would behoove him to play well for us to have a better chance to win,” Prosser said. “Guys are going to derive courage from certain guys, and if he plays well early, that will give our other guys courage.”

        The past five games, Williams has averaged just 9.2 points while shooting 24 percent from 3-point range. His 2.3 rebounds a game is a career low.

        “I see myself as a key, because right now I'm not playing good,” Williams said. “So, you know, I'm going to have to be one of the X-factors.”

       



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