Friday, December 14, 2001

XU after 5th win in 6 Shootouts

UC, XU renew rivalry tonight

By Michael Perry
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Xavier has a chance tonight to accomplish something it's never done in the 74-year history of its series with rival Cincinnati.

        The Musketeers can put together their most dominant Crosstown Shootout stretch by winning for the fifth time in six games against UC. XU also won four of five during the 1980s.

        A win tonight also would be Xavier's third straight Shootout victory, tying its best streak, set from the 1983-84 season through the 1985-86 season.

        Tonight's game at Cintas Center would appear a fairly even matchup. UC (6-1) has the better backcourt, led by 2000 Conference USA player of the year Steve Logan. XU (5-2) has the better frontcourt, led by 2000 Atlantic 10 player of the year David West.

        “I don't see how you could even pick a favorite,” Xavier senior Kevin Frey said. “It's a crazy game. There's always an eerie feeling going in ... because you don't know what's going to happen.”

        None of which stops UC faithful from trying to figure out what the heck is going on. Some theories:

        • UC typically plays better later.

        Xavier's four victories have come in November and December. UC has won three in a row played in January. In 1997-98, the 10th-ranked Musketeers routed the Bearcats at the Cincinnati Gardens 88-68 on Dec.13. XU went on to a 22-8 record and lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament; UC finished 27-6 and lost in the second round.

        • It's a bigger game for Xavier.

        “I don't believe that to be true,” said Wake Forest's Skip Prosser, the former XU coach who went 4-3 against the Bearcats. “I think Xavier's program has transcended the point where it's a big game for Xavier but not for Cincinnati. I can't imagine, as competitive as Bobby (Huggins) is, knowing the way things have gone the last few years, that they won't take it seriously.”

        Fact is, it's the kind of victory that can help Xavier when NCAA Tournament at-large berths are awarded. It certainly did not hurt last season, for example.

        Huggins contends a loss to Xavier simply will not affect his team's NCAA chances: “It's not the Game of the Century for us; it never has been. There are no banners hanging in (Shoemaker Center) saying how many times we won or lost (to Xavier).”

        • XU plays harder than usual.

        Even UC notices the Musketeers' intensity.

        “What I've seen is their emotion,” said UC assistant Dan Peters, who scouted Xavier. “Their passion in that game has been unbelievable.”

        Said UC center Donald Little: “They will come out ready to take our heads off, and we've got to retaliate. I just think they're much hungrier. Every year we have them down 10 or 12 or 15 points, and we'll stop playing.”

        • The summer eliminates UC's aura.

        The Bearcats may intimidate other teams but not the Musketeers, many of whom know and play ball with UC players during the spring and summer. Even when UC had Kenyon Martin, college basketball's player of the year, XU was unfazed and upset the Bearcats 66-64.

        “I don't think the (XU) guys are as mesmerized by UC as they once were,” XU radio analyst Steve Wolf said.

        • The Lenny Brown factor.

        Robert Morris coach Mark Schmidt, the former XU assistant who scouted the Bearcats for seven years, said Brown's game-winning shot vs. No.1 UC in November 1996 broke a mental barrier for Xavier players and coaches.

        “Before that, it was, "Oh, I don't know, can we win?' After that shot, I think our guys got to the point where it was, "We're going to win.' There was positive air about the kids, a confidence that if we played the way we're capable of playing, no matter who (UC) had, that we were going to be in the game and we were going to win.”

        Of course, there was less pressure on Xavier the two years UC was ranked No. 1 and the Musketeers won.

        • XU steps up.

        Three of Xavier's four victories in the past five seasons have been by two points. The Musketeers have made big plays when needed, and the Bearcats haven't. There was Brown's winning shot in 1996 (after a Charles Williams turnover). There was Frey's tie-breaking free throws with 29 seconds left, followed by Lloyd Price's steal, in December 1999. And last year, Price stole the ball from Logan, then scored the game-winning basket before UC's Kenny Satterfield missed a short floater at the buzzer.

        “Every year that I've been here, they've made shots against us that they haven't made all year long and from guys that you don't really expect to make shots,” Huggins said.

        An example? Xavier's then-sophomore Alvin Brown went 4-of-5 from the field for nine first-half points in December 1999.

        • Preparation time paid off.

        The last two seasons, Xavier has had more time to get ready for the game. When XU bounced the No.1 Bearcats in December 1999, UC had gotten home around 2a.m. from a late night game at Saint Louis, then had one day to practice for the Musketeers. When the teams had the same amount of days to get ready in January 1999, Cincinnati won.

        Both played Monday night. UC practiced every day after that; Xavier had to take a mandatory day off Tuesday.

        • The bottom line.

        Throw out the 1997-98 game when XU clearly had a better team early in the season and won by 20. Its other three victories were decided in the final seconds.

        “There's just no telling why we were fortunate enough in those games,” Prosser said. “That's probably what it'll come down to Friday. Both teams will play incredibly hard. The atmosphere will be electric. Cintas will be unbelievable. I just think it'll come down to that last minute.”

        Staff reporter Neil Schmidt contributed to this story.


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