Monday, March 19, 2001

SULLIVAN: Musketeers unselfish to a fault




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        The drill is known as One More. It is designed to reinforce the basketball precept that the extra pass often yields the easy shot.

        When Xavier's women's basketball team practices what Melanie Balcomb preaches, their ball movement is a wonder to behold. The Musketeers run into problems when One More becomes Three More.

        “In my six years here, we've never had problems with the shot clock,” Balcomb said Sunday afternoon at the Cintas Center. “But we're passing so much now, it's running out on us.”

        Fresh from a 77-62 victory over Clemson, bound for the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16, Balcomb's biggest coaching challenge is finding something substantive to com-
plain about.

        Currently, it is unselfishness. The Musketeers are so polite that it's potentially counterproductive. They are passing up wide-open shots in search of a teammate with a wider-open shot, a contributing factor in their season-high 32 turnovers Sunday.

        They need more ego and less etiquette.

        “We're giving up shots,” senior forward Nicole Levandusky said, “that we should be taking.”

20 straight wins

        If this seems a comparatively minor quibble, it is because the Musketeers have run out of major concerns. They are 30-2, winners of 20 straight games, and headed for the Mideast Regional in Birmingham near the top of their game. They couldn't have dismantled Clemson's defense any more systematically Sunday if it were built from Legos.

        First, they threw the ball in to center Taru Tuukkanen who scored nine points and forced two fouls by Clemson center Erin Batth before the game was four minutes old.

        Then, with Clemson coach Jim Davis compelled to tighten his interior defense, the Musketeers started pouring it on from the perimeter. They were 12-of-18 from 3-point range and took so many unmolested shots that it almost seemed as if they were playing five-on-four.

        No wonder they played so self-consciously. After a while, taking another open 20-footer almost seems an exercise in gluttony.

        “Personally, I like pressure,” Levandusky said. “I don't like the wide-open ones. Those are the ones I usually miss.”

Sharp shooters

        Levandusky missed five of her 10 3-point attempts, but Amy Waugh was 4-for-4 and Reetta Piipari was 3-for-3.

        “Philosophically, our players have a green light to shoot whenever they're open,” Balcomb said. “And every player I have can shoot.”

        Of the nine players Balcomb used Sunday, only point guard Jennifer Parr failed to score. But this was more a function of her attitude than her aim. Parr played 32 minutes, was credited with seven assists, but launched only one field-goal try.

        Asked about Balcomb's concern with overpassing, Parr replied: “I'm the guilty party.”

        “We're very team-oriented,” Parr said. “There's not one person who can be considered a ball hog.”

        Excessive sharing is generally preferable to excessive selfishness. It is, Melanie Balcomb admits, “a good problem to have.”

        At the moment, the Xavier coach does not seem to have any bad problems.

        E-mail tsullivan@enquirer.com. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/sullivan.

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