Saturday, December 15, 2001

SULLIVAN: Davis' defense gets better of West




By Tim Sullivan
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Jamaal Davis got the word Friday morning. Too early to lose any sleep. Too late to quietly slip out of town.

        The University of Cincinnati's senior forward did not learn until game day that he would be guarding Xavier's David West in the Crosstown Shootout.

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        “When I told (Terry) Nelson he had to guard (Indiana's) Calbert Cheaney, he almost had a heart attack,” UC coach Bob Huggins said. “I didn't want J.D. to have a heart attack. I kind of sprung it on him.”

        Sometimes, short notice is the best kind.

        Davis' defense was not the only reason the Bearcats drubbed Xavier 75-55, but it was at the top of the list. He frustrated West, effectively denied him the ball and held him to nine points and five rebounds before the Xavier All-American was immobilized by injury.

        “I just tried to keep a body on him and wear him down a little bit,” Davis said. “They don't really have anybody behind him who can play the post as well as he can.”

        That much goes without saying. Few teams have one player of West's stature, much less two. For the bulk of Friday's second half, Xavier had none.

        But the ankle sprain that effectively ended the Shootout's suspense should not detract from the defense Davis had played previous to it.

        When West fell to the floor with 1:03 remaining in the first half, while Davis was making a layup to extend UC's lead to 13 points, the game's tone had already been set and its outcome seemed inevitable.

        To that point in the proceedings, Davis had spent most of the night in West's face, in his shirt and in his way. When Davis could not deny West the ball, he frequently forced him to take possession out on the perimeter, far beyond his effective range. Instead of being a dominant inside presence, West was reduced to flinging fadeaway jumpers from deep along the baseline.

        This is a formula for failure for the Muskies. For the Bearcats, it was evidence of the kind of forceful defense with which Huggins forged his reputation.

        Having watched West's 23-point, 13-rebound effort in last year's Shootout, Huggins was disinclined to reprise a strategy that found Donald Little in foul trouble almost at the opening tip. Huggins' Bearcats have never been as physically unimposing as they were last season, but their work in the weight room has added bulk to their bullying.

        Jamaal Davis' mission Friday night was to shadow West, to make him work on the defensive end, to wear him down to a more manageable size. It was a mission he might not have been able to accomplish last season — either physically or mentally.

        “J.D.'s playing like Erik Martin did his last year,” Huggins said. “He's always where he's supposed to be.”

        Because of West's limitations, Friday's game may not say much about the relative strengths of the two teams. But it did say quite a lot about Jamaal Davis. He has started 40 of his last 42 games at UC, never scoring more than 16 points, but he handled his season's most strenuous defensive assignment with the grim obsession of a stalker.

        Before the game was five minutes old, West's frustration was clear. Davis started “jawing” at him, and West responded at considerable length. Then, after the Bearcats took an 11-7 lead, West picked up an offensive foul with a series of insufficiently subtle elbows and some superb acting by Davis.

        “I wasn't really trying to get into his head,” Davis said. “I just wanted him to know I would be all over him.”

        Davis absorbed West's punishment, and dished out his own, with an expression notable for its lack of expressiveness. He countered West's mounting exasperation with a perfect poker face. Late in the game, after his lack of mobility forced him to the bench, West sat for a long stretch with a towel covering his face. When he removed the shield, he started shaking his head from side to side.

        Jamaal Davis, meanwhile, was holding his head high.

        Contact Tim Sullivan at 768-8456; fax: 768-8550; e-mail: tsullivan@enquirer.com.

       



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