Monday, December 20, 1999

Big win could be turning point for XU

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        There will be some very tangible effects from Xavier's 66-64 upset victory over top-ranked Cincinnati on Saturday night.

        The Musketeers moved up to No.30 (from 42) in the new Sagarin Ratings. Their Ratings Percentage Index ranking is at 42 (up from about 60).

        Dick Vitale will talk about Xavier on future broadcasts. The victory over UC will look good should Xavier end up on the NCAA Tournament bubble again.

        There is also a chance there will be some intangible effects, just as there were in the 1996-97 season when the Musketeers shocked then- No.1 Cincinnati at Shoemaker Center.

        That Xavier team went on to win 10 straight games and be ranked as high as No.11 in the country. After the victory, the Musketeers practiced with a bounce in their step, took the court with a slight swagger and listened intently to the coaches.

        Will all that happen again three years later?

        “It's hard to say what the effect is going to be,” Xavier coach Skip Prosser said Sunday. “It's hard to predict because this is a different group of guys, a different makeup. You hope the effect of something like that will be all positive, but only time will tell.”

        Here was the immediate response of some players:

        Within 30 minutes of the final buzzer Saturday night, sophomore Kevin Frey said he couldn't wait to get to practice the next day. “Everything we're doing every day is starting to pay off,” he said.

        Senior Darnell Williams was the first in the locker room Sunday before practice and said he wished there was another game to play. “We'll lace them up today and play anybody right now,” he said.

        Xavier (6-2) is staring at a nice opportunity. Four of the next five games (St. Mary's on Tuesday night, Princeton, Toledo, Virginia Tech) are at the Cincinnati Gardens, where the Musketeers have won 20 straight. The next two road games are at Marquette and Rhode Island.

        There are some good teams in that mix, but none is threatening to break into the top 25.

        “We just took that game (in November '96) and used it as a stepping ladder to keep on going, and that's what we've got to do with this one,” Williams said.

        “No.1 team in America, in your gym, you knock them off on ESPN. What more could you ask for?” junior Maurice McA fee said. “That can't do anything but give you confidence.”

        Not only confidence as individual players, but confidence in teammates and confidence in the coaches.

        It is easier to pay attention to the details of a scouting report when you believe it will lead to victory. The 1996-97 team honed in during practice, then executed in games. That team went on to finish 23-6 and advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

        Xavier has already played five NCAA teams from last season and is 3-2 against those opponents.

        “I said before the game I thought (UC) deserved to be ranked No.1 in the country,” Prosser said. “That, to me, hasn't changed any because of last evening's game. I still think they're as good as anybody in the country and for that 40 minutes we played right there with them.

        “We just have to play with that kind of passion all the time. Now they see that if we play like that, then wow, we can play with anybody. Me telling them that is one thing, but the reality of the game last evening shows them that that can happen.”

        Prosser celebrated with friends and family after Saturday night's victory, then went home. He couldn't sleep, so he ended up popping in a tape of the Skyline Chili Crosstown Shootout at 2 a.m. and watching the whole game.

        “We still won,” he said.

        He slept between 3 to 31/2 hours.

        “It was huge,” Prosser said. "You're playing your most heated rival, I thought the atmosphere was unparalleled, the perseverence and the resolve we showed when Cincinnati took the one-point lead (with 6:07 left), that was all very good.

        “But it can be undone with a less-than-scintillating effort against a St. Mary's.”


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