Wednesday, February 14, 2001

Xavier needs best defense for UMass


Muskies strong even without press

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        AMHERST, Mass. — The highlight films sell speed. Xavier has long advertised an up-tempo style with full-court pressure defense — 40 minutes of heck. This season's success is more what-the-heck: In having stopped pressing almost altogether, XU is defending better than any other Musketeer team in 39 years.

        “You have to adjust your team to the guys you have,” coach Skip Prosser said. “As preseason and some of the early games evolved, we thought it was necessary to change.”

XAVIER at UMASS
  • When: 7:30 p.m. today.
  • Where: William D. Mullins Memorial Center (9,493).
  • Records: XU 18-4 (9-2 A-10), UMass 10-11 (8-2).
  • TV: Time Warner Ch.2 in Cincinnati.
  • Radio: WLW-AM (700).
  XAVIER
  Player-Ht-Yr-Avg
  Romain Sato -6-4-Fr.-11.5
  Kevin Frey -6-8 -Jr.-11.5
  David West -6-8-So.-17.8
  Maurice McAfee -6-0-Sr.-9.7
  Lionel Chalmers -6-0-So.-9.3
  Coach: Skip Prosser (145-61, seventh season; 162-74 overall)
  MASSACHUSETTS
  Player-Ht-Yr-Avg
  Winston Smith -6-5-Sr.-3.8
  Micah Brand -6-11-So.-9.4
  Kitwana Rhymer -6-10-Sr.-9.7
  Monty Mack -6-3-Sr.-19.3
  Shannon Crooks -6-2-Jr.-9.1
  Coach: Bruiser Flint (81-68, fifth season; same overall)
  BY THE NUMBERS
  • 1st, 3rd: Rankings in A-10 play of UMass (38.8) and XU (39.9) in defensive field-goal percentage.
  • 3: OT games among these teams' six regular-season meetings in A-10 play.

        When XU (18-4, 9-2 Atlantic 10) and Massachusetts (10-11, 8-2) jockey tonight for positioning in the A-10 stretch run, the Musketeers will need to lean on that durable defense. UMass shoots 46.5 percent in A-10 play.

        “You've gotta love playing defense,” XU junior Lloyd Price said. “Our success has been a matter of guys sitting down (in a defensive stance) and taking pride in the half-court defense.”

        XU's 40 percent defensive field-goal percentage is the best since the 1961-62 team allowed just 38 percent. The school record is 36 percent in 1952-53; XU doesn't have records available before that season.

        How much of an improvement is this? XU's best mark in the last 34 years had been 42 percent in 1998-99. XU's 30 percent defensive 3-point percentage also is on pace to better the school record of 30 percent set two seasons ago.

        “We have sacrificed tempo for the sake of defensive efficiency,” Prosser said.

        With XU executing well in its half-court offense, funneling most possessions through center David West (17.8 ppg), there hasn't been a need for as many transition baskets. Less gambling in the press has meant fewer easy baskets for opponents.

        “We're not doing anything spectacular (on defense),” West said. “But we're real

        scrappy. We try to get our hands on passes and get some deflections.”

        UMass knows defense, too. In conference play, it ranks No.1 in field-goal percentage defense (38 percent), 3-point defense (29 percent) and blocks (5.3 avg.), ranking second in scoring defense (63.2) and third in rebounding margin (plus-4.2).

        UMass beat XU 75-64 Jan.9 in Cincinnati, and the Musketeers insist that could be blamed on their lack of effort. West managed 28 points and 11 rebounds, but his teammates were a collective 11-for-41 from the field, and XU was outrebounded 43-26.

        The onus will be on Price and Kevin Frey, XU's ailing forwards. Against UMass, Price fouled out with two rebounds, and Frey played 23 minutes and got one.

        Frey, troubled by bone spurs in his ankle, grabbed no rebounds Saturday against LaSalle. And Price's health has worsened: Besides an ankle sprain that has dogged him all season, he has suffered recently from a bulging hernia that caused him to sit out Tuesday's practice.

        “Lloyd's situation is of a little more concern than Ke vin's,” Prosser said.

        After a 2-9 nonconference season, UMass has made a startling turnaround to reach the fringes of NCAA Tournament consideration. It stands 73rd in the RPI.

        “One thing that works in our favor is we played a ridiculous nonconference schedule (rated No.2 in the RPI),” UMass coach Bruiser Flint said. “That's why people are saying we still have a chance.”

        Last week, UMass senior guard Monty Mack (19.3 ppg) became just the second 2,000-point scorer in school history; Jim McCoy has the school record of 2,374 points.

        TV LISTINGS: Tonight's game will air on Time Warner Ch.2 in Cincinnati, Adelphia Ch.3 in Delhi and Adelphia Ch.15 in Amelia and Liberty Township. Fox Sports Net will air it on tape delay at 2a.m. Thursday.



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