Friday, December 14, 2001

UC's burden: Stopping West

Huggins rates XU star among best in nation

By Michael Perry
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Dan Peters has watched tape of every Xavier game this season, and if he weren't so concerned with devising a plan to stop junior David West tonight, the University of Cincinnati assistant coach would enjoy watching West play.


•   1. Don't let him post up within five feet of the basket. If he does and catches the ball, he's almost unstoppable. Push him as far out as possible.

•   2. Don't foul him. He attempted 19 foul shots against UC last year, and he's shooting .759 from the foul line.

•   3. As soon as a shot goes up, find him and get a body on him. West has a knack for rebounding, and if he grabs an offensive board he will score off it.

•   4. Beware the other four on the floor. West has great court awareness and passing skills. If double-teamed, he will spot open teammates and get them the ball.

•   5. Know all this is easier said than done. West prides himself on being smart, poised and not being outworked on the court.

        “He's got great hands,” Peters said. “I don't know if there's anything offensively he can't do. I think he's the best power forward in the country. I think he's as good an offensive post player as I've seen this year.”

        There is high praise coming from Clifton for the Musketeer most feared by the Bearcats.

        UC had no answers for West in last season's Crosstown Shootout. He finished with 23 points and 13 rebounds and was 15-of-19 from the foul line.

        “I think he's the best player that's been at Xavier in the 13 years I've been here at UC,” Bearcats coach Bob Huggins said. “I don't think there's any question. He does more things than anybody else they've had there.”

        Huggins compared West's hands to former Bearcats star Danny Fortson's. He said West is at least as good a rebounder as former XU stars Brian Grant and Tyrone Hill, with a greater offensive repertoire.

        “He's very, very skilled,” Huggins said. “His range is improved. He can lay it on the floor. He can shoot it on the perimeter. He's terrific in the post. I think David West is one of the top 10 players in the country.”

        So what can UC do about the reigning Atlantic 10 Conference player of the year?

        Last season, UC center Donald Little was called for a technical foul and went to the bench with two fouls less than five minutes into the game. Little would total five minutes on the night before fouling out with no points and three rebounds.

        Reserve center B.J. Grove had four points and three rebounds in 16 minutes. Power forward Jamaal Davis got 10 points and three rebounds in 33 minutes. Reserve forward Rodney Crawford was scoreless, but had a team-high nine rebounds in 25 minutes.

        In other words, UC tried everyone but couldn't counter West.

        “We need the best effort out of our post guys that we've had all year,” Peters said. “Period.”

        The 6-foot-9 West averages 22 points, 10.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks, and he's shooting .663 from the field. He will no doubt be Xavier's Plan A.

        “If they stop him, then we'll have to go to something else,” XU guard Lionel Chalmers said. “But that's who killed 'em last year, so why would we go away from something that's working?”

        West said he was surrounded by UC's defense often last year, with UC guards trying to swat the ball out of his hands. He had an aggressive state of mind. He wanted the ball. He wanted to get to the foul line. And he did.

        Little said he can't come out too aggressively and start fouling.

        “I've got to stay on my feet, don't try to block everything,” he said. “Stay in the game. Just make him shoot over me. It's tough, because I start thinking too much and I become too cautious.”

        Davis said UC has to keep West off the glass rebounding, “out-tough” him and limit the number of times West touches the ball, which is even harder this season because Xavier's offense runs through West.

        “Those are about the only three things you can do with him,” Davis said. “He's the one who gets his team to go. We have a couple ways that we can try to contain him.”

        Little, Davis — both improved from last season — and freshman Jason Maxiell probably will defend West most of the night. The three make for a better inside presence than UC had a year ago.

        The Bearcats want to keep West as far from the basket as possible. If West catches the ball within five feet of the basket, it's usually two points — or three if he gets fouled. If West is eight to 10 feet out, he has to shoot a jump shot or drive to the basket. Either takes more of an effort than simply laying it in or dunking.

        UC has to make West work hard for every rebound, fight through screens, run the floor, play defense and struggle for every basket.

        “You've got to realize that if you're guarding him, you've got a tough, tough job,” Peters said. “You cannot fall asleep on him for one second. And we've got to play team defense. I know we can't guard him one-on-one.”

        The Bearcats are sure of this much: West doesn't rattle easily, UC cannot count on him getting in foul trouble because it rarely happens and the Musketeers will look first to West when they are in trouble and need a basket.

        They also know he has an expanded shooting range this season. West is already 3-of-7 from 3-point range. He only attempted one in his first two seasons at XU.

        “I hope he shoots about 40 3s,” Huggins said. “That'd make me happy.”


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