Sunday, January 07, 2001

Embarrassment has Muskies working harder


XU undefeated since defeat at Princeton

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Four weeks ago today, Xavier's basketball players returned from New Jersey, retreated to their dorm rooms and stewed. They had lost twice in eight days and were embarrassed by their on-court shoving match the day prior at Princeton.

        Since then, they have gone 5-0, winning four times away from home. XU (10-2, 1-0 Atlantic 10) has risen from No.105 to 22 in the RPI entering today's home game against LaSalle (6-6, 0-1).

        So ... what happened?

LaSALLE at XAVIER
  • When: 2 p.m. today.
  • Where: Cintas Center (10,250).
  • Records: XU 10-2 (1-0 A-10), LaSalle 6-6 (0-1).
  • TV: Fox Sports Net.
  • Radio: WLW-AM (700).
  LASALLE
  Player-Ht-Yr-Avg
  Victor Thomas-6-7-Sr.-20.7
  Rasual Butler-6-8-Jr.-21.6
  Garrett Bragg-6-11-Sr.-8.3
  Rasheed Quadri-6-3-Fr.-3.8
  Julian Blanks-6-2-Jr.-11.0
  Coach: Speedy Morris (232-191, 15th season; same overall)
  XAVIER
  Player-Ht-Yr-Avg
  Lloyd Price-6-5-Jr.-8.5
  Kevin Frey-6-8-Jr.-11.8
  David West-6-8-So.-15.2
  Romain Sato-6-4-Fr.-10.4
  Maurice McAfee-6-0-Sr.-8.5
  Coach: Skip Prosser (137-59, seventh year; 154-72 overall)
  BY THE NUMBERS
• 7.8: 3-pointers a game LaSalle makes, tops in the Atlantic 10.
  • 62.3: Percentage of LaSalle's points scored by two players, Butler and Thomas.
  • 37-1: XU's home record in its last 38 games; the loss was to LaSalle last season.
        “Easy: We lost to Princeton,” senior captain Maurice McAfee said.

        The analysis is embarrassment. Princeton was shorthanded and struggling when it stunned the Musketeers 58-52.

        “We just felt we shouldn't have lost that game,” sophomore center David West said. “We didn't want to lose any more games like that, so maybe if we worked harder in practice, we'd do things right in the games.”

        Coach Skip Prosser closed practice to the media the following week in preparation for Cincinnati, and his players responded with increased effort.

        “There was a heightened sense of urgency,” he said. “I think our kids knew if we didn't kick it into another gear, we could go over (to UC) and get humiliated.”

        Sharper practices are the most cited reason for the Musketeers' improvement. Prosser said XU generally practices the way it plays and that the winning streak speaks to XU's practice performance.

        “We just started listening more, because we did not do that before Princeton,” Lloyd Price said. “The coaches were preparing us, but there's only so much they can do. We have to be able to listen and learn, and I think we've been doing a better job of that.”

        Other factors:

        • West. He averaged 11 points the first six games and 21.2 the next five. For the second straight season, he's leading the Atlantic 10 in rebounding (10.3 avg.).

        • Price. The junior forward totaled just 44 minutes the first seven games, slowed by an ankle sprain. But he made his first start against UC, scoring the game-winning basket, and XU is unbeaten since. He averaged 4.3 points as a sub, but 11 as a starter. • Defense and rebounding. XU allowed .424 shooting and .323 3-point shooting in its 5-2 start, but just a .384 mark overall thereafter, including .264 from 3-point range. It has averaged 6.5 more rebounds during the win streak. It leads the A-10 in scoring defense (61.5 avg.).

        • Road poise. The travails of having won just six of the last 22 road games disappeared with triumphs at UC, Toledo and Fordham.

        “What they have done a good job of since Princeton is not worrying about March, not worrying about RPIs,” Prosser said. “It's been all about, "Let's work hard to win the next game.'”

        ABOUT LA SALLE: The Explorers have two of the league's top three scorers in 6-foot-7 forwards Rasual Butler (21.6 ppg, 7.2 rebounds) and Victor Thomas (20.7, 7.9). Both shoot better than 35 percent from 3-point range; Butler leads the A-10 in 3-pointers (3.5 avg.).

        “I'd rather have five balanced guys, but you can win with two offensive players if you play defense,” LaSalle coach Speedy Morris said. “Our Achilles' heel is lack of size and depth.”

        The variable is point guard Julian Blanks (11.0 ppg), who leads the A-10 in assists (6.3 avg.) but is inconsistent.



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