Saturday, January 23, 1999

Defense key to XU winning streak




BY MICHAEL PERRY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Xavier's play during the past two weeks has been its defense.

        The past four opponents (Duquesne, St. Bonaventure, George Washington and Fordham) have:

        • Averaged just 50.8 points, with nobody scoring more than 61 (GW);

        • Shot 32.9 percent from the field;

        • Shot 26.6 percent from three-point range.

VIRGINIA TECH at XU
• When: 4 p.m. today
• Where: Cincinnati Gardens (10,100)
• Records: Virginia Tech 6-9 (1-5 A-10); Xavier 14-4 (6-0)
• TV: Channel 9
• Radio: WKRC-AM (550)
• Tickets: Sold out
BY THE NUMBERS
• 4: Atlantic 10 teams with overall winning records (of 12 teams)
• 52: Three-point field goals by Lenny Brown in 18 games this season
• 48: Three-point field goals by Lenny Brown in 30 games last season
        “Last summer we talked about trying to guard better in the halfcourt,” Xavier coach Skip Prosser said Friday. “I think what's happened is our press has become less effective and our halfcourt defense has become more effective. Ideally, we would like to be very good at both, and maybe you can't.”

        Xavier, winner of nine straight, plays host to Virginia Tech today.

        The Musketeers have already held nine opponents to less than 60 points this season. That's as many as the past two seasons combined and the most since the 1992-93 season when 11 foes scored less than 60.

        The defense is better individually and collectively.

        Why?

        • Xavier's assistant coaches Jeff Battle, Mark Schmidt and Mark Gaffney, prepare detailed scouting reports on opposing teams, and XU players are paying attention. The Musketeers learn about opponents' plays, as well as tendencies of individual players, and they are better grasping and utilizing what they're being told.

        • XU starts most games with full-court pressure, but if it is not effective, Prosser is going to more halfcourt defense. XU spends more time in practice on halfcourt defense, too.

        • The Musketeers learned early that if they don't play good halfcourt defense, they are not going to be successful. Individual players are taking greater pride in their defense, and new guys have learned what kind of effort it takes to play solid “D.” The weak-side help defense and post defense are better, and the players trust each other more.

        “You've got to be sort of a Jekyll-and-Hyde-type guy,” Prosser said.

        “You've got to have the monster part of you that really wants to lock up somebody, that's very aggressive and foaming at the mouth. And yet on the other side, you've got to be analytical enough to know when you're supposed to be helping your teammate, what your opponent is good at and not good at.”

        Example: XU senior James Posey committed a foul Wednesday night by getting up close in defending Fordham forward Teremun Johnson.

        “Johnson's not a jump shooter, he's a driver,” Prosser said. “You've got to be analytical right there, to get off him. Eddie Lucas from Virginia Tech, you've really got to climb into him. He's good enough to score anyway, but you have to know his best thing is his three-point shooting.”

        Xavier has done a superb job on the past four top-scoring opponents.

        Fordham's Bevon Robin (16.5 ppg coming in) finished 4-of-16 shooting with 10 points. GW point guard Shawnta Rogers (21 ppg) was 3-of-17 from the field with 11 points. St. Bonaventure's Tim Winn (15.1 ppg) went 3-of-12 for 12 points. And Duquesne's Wayne Smith (16.3 ppg) scored 14 points on 5-of-15 shooting.

        Those four were a combined 7-of-26 from three-point range.

        The one glaring problem: Rebounding. The Musketeers don't box out opponents as well as they need to, especially with big, strong teams like Cincinnati, Temple and Massachusetts still ahead.

        “With so many new guys, our offense has been so inconsistent that if we don't guard, we're going to find ourselves in a lot of bad situations,” Prosser said.

        DARNELL UPDATE: Darnell Williams' right knee tested at 85 percent Thursday, and trainer David Fluker said the injured senior should begin practicing on a limited basis in about three weeks. Still, Williams admitted Friday that he will not return this season.

        “They don't need me,” he said. “They're all right. I'm done. See you next year.”

        Williams, who previously has said he wanted to try to come back this season, will apply for a medical redshirt and return next fall for a fourth year of eligibility. Last year's leading scorer can now dunk off both legs, and said, “In 10 days, I should be running a mile full out.”



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