Thursday, November 25, 1999

Time for Muskies to turn it up


XU will need better defense to survive Alaska

BY MICHAEL PERRY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Through two exhibition games and its season opener, Xavier was able to survive despite its defensive miscues. The scores were lopsided, the opponents overmatched. Mistakes were not costly. That changes this week.

        The Musketeers play their first-round game at the Great Alaska Shootout tonight (9:30) then face 10th-ranked Kansas or Georgia on Friday.

GREAT ALASKA SHOOTOUT
(all times EST)
  Wednesday
  1: Georgia Tech 100, Grambling State 88
  2: Washington 86, Alaska-Anchorage 70

  Thursday
  3: Xavier vs. Louisville, 9:30 p.m.
  4: Kansas vs. Georgia, midnight (ESPN)

  Friday
  5: Grambling vs. Alaska-Anchorage, 4 p.m.
  6: Loser Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4, 6 p.m.
  7: Georgia Tech vs. Washington, 9:30 p.m.
  8: Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 4, midnight (ESPN)

  Saturday
  9: 7th and 8th-place game, 4 p.m.
  10: 4th and 6th-place game, 6 p.m.
  11: 3rd and 5th-place game, 9 p.m.
  12: Championship game, midnight. ESPN

        These are teams that will make XU pay for defensive lapses.

        “You hope it doesn't take a wake-up call that this stuff's pretty important,” coach Skip Prosser said Wednesday.

        This is not to say there have been that many defensive problems this early in the season (Maryland-Eastern Shore shot just 28.6 percent from the field and had 17 turnovers). But one of the challenges of coaching a young team is getting them to play great defense, which is crucial if you are a full-court pressing team like the Musketeers.

        Playing good defense can wear down opponents and help build momentum. There is little more frustrating for a team than holding the ball 20 to 30 seconds and coming away empty. Or turning the ball over in the backcourt.

        In games like tonight, when the margin for error lessens, every possession counts.

        When Lloyd Price was playing prep school basketball at perennially powerful Oak Hill Academy, coach Steve Smith often asked Price to guard the opposing team's best player.

        Price took it as a personal challenge and thought he had become a pretty good defen sive player. Then he got to Xavier.

        “It's a whole different level,” said Price, now a sophomore. “You've got to play hard. Everybody at this level can play.”

        The main areas of defensive emphasis include:

        • Guarding your man, knowing his tendencies and learning from the scouting report

        • Knowing how to play team defense, when to help out and how to react away from the ball

        “That's only really done through repetition, drills and drills and drills,” Prosser said. “That only comes through time and experience.”

        “Off the ball, you've got to see the ball and see your man and you've got to stay focused because in a split second your man could be back-dooring you,” Price said. “You've just got to make smart decisions all the time. That was the problem last year; I didn't stay focused all the time. I'd get sidetracked by something little and then I'd lose concentration and then I'd get beat.

        “The great ones don't let up on anybody, but you've got to be a lot more focused playing against a Louisville, Kansas or Georgia.”

        Most Division I recruits come to their programs with offensive skills and confidence that they can score. Defense is another matter.

        Some high school coaches stress defense more than others. Some not at all. There are few scouting reports and video sessions.

        “I don't think I played defense at all (in high school),” Xavier sophomore Kevin Frey said. “I thought I did then, but I came here and found I played no "D' whatsoever.

        “I'm still learning. We're still working on that one.”

        Prosser could recall only one player who arrived at Xavier already skilled defensively: Guard Jamie Gladden.

        “That's a rare thing,” Prosser said.

        “I just think the hardest thing is the mental concentration, where every possession you have to dig in, concentrate, listen to what the coaches have told you, anticipate rather than reacting to what the other team doing. Part of it is a condition of youth and realizing how important it is.”

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