Wednesday, March 14, 2001

West, Murphy centers of attention

Matchup in middle is key for Xavier, Notre Dame

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Xavier's David West battles Notre Dame's David Graves for position in last year's NIT.
(AP photo)
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        David West's final exam last season was a crash course in Murphy's Law. As in, what can go wrong will go wrong in trying to stop Troy Murphy.

        Failing to beat him, Xavier's West decided to copy him. When West again takes aim at Notre Dame's star center, he'll probably make moves that mimic Murphy.

        “I watched the tape (of last season's NIT game) a few times last summer to see what he did,” West said. “I've used some of that stuff.”

        The West-Murphy matchup is the marquee one Friday in this NCAA Tournament opener in Kansas City. Both won player of the year honors in their respective conferences. Murphy became a two-time All-American on Tuesday, while West made honorable mention.

        The similarities don't end there: Both are by far the goofiest members of their teams. While West is a silly sophomore who embarrasses teammates and sings off-key, Murphy is a self-described flake who reads Dr. Seuss' Oh, the Places You'll Go! before every game.

        “Troy is definitely silly, probably worse than you hear,” Irish senior guard Martin Ingelsby said. “He's a jokester — pranking people, writing on his shoes and stuff.”

        West is a vocal and emotional leader, taking defeats so hard he's often teary-eyed in the locker room. He had said for two seasons how much he wanted to get his team to the NCAA Tournament, and now he has.

        Murphy said the same about his goals, which this season netted Notre Dame's first Big East regular-season title and first NCAA berth in 11 years.

        “You get an individual (award), you get to go to a banquet for a half-hour or an hour,” Murphy told The Enquirer earlier this season. “You get to play in the NCAA Tournament, it's something you do with your friends and you remember it for the rest of your life.”

        Murphy, a junior, considered turning pro last spring but returned in part to play for then-coach Matt Doherty. Despite Doherty's departure for North Carolina and the arrival of Mike Brey — Murphy's third coach in three seasons — Murphy has averaged 22 points and 9.3 rebounds to carry the Irish (19-9) to a No.19 national ranking.

        “I remind him daily of his importance,” Brey said. “He's been huge.”

        Which brings us to the matchup.

        Last year, Murphy totaled 21 points and nine rebounds in a 76-64 Notre Dame victory in South Bend. West, who had eight points and seven rebounds, played well defensively in harassing Murphy into 5-for-14 shooting. But Murphy muscled his way to the line for 12 free throws, making 10.

        “He does a heck of a job getting to the free throw line, especially getting his body into you to establish position,” West said. “Your natural instinct is to fight back (defensively), but the ref sees you, and it's a foul.”

        That's where West learned some lessons. Last season, West attempted 150 free throws in 33 games (making 66.7 percent). This winter, West has earned 223 foul shots (making 74 percent) — more attempts even than Murphy's 215.

        West has averaged 17.8 points and 11 rebounds, and his passing ability (57 assists) and team-high 37 steals have helped him earn comparisons to his well-rounded counterpart.

        “Murphy, he's great. He's potentially the best player on the floor,” said Miami coach Charlie Coles, who played both teams. “But David West ain't far behind.”

        Lately, Murphy has been mortal. He had 17 points against both Connecticut and Georgetown and eight against Pittsburgh — the second-lowest total of his career — in Notre Dame's 0-3 finish.

        Pitt's coaches said they double-teamed Murphy throughout the game, which they hadn't done in two prior losses to the Irish. Coles said Miami used numerous traps and tried to keep Murphy out on the perimeter.

        But handling him is easier said than done.

        “Troy Murphy has seen every defense known to man,” XU coach Skip Prosser said. “There are no magic formulas.”

        The good news: Notre Dame says the same about West.

        “Everybody knows Troy's game, but ... the only thing different with West is Xavier's not as in the spotlight as we are,” Irish junior forward David Graves said. “(West) just isn't getting the recognition he deserves.”

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