Saturday, December 01, 2001

XU wary of surprise

San Francisco fits profile for an upset

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco isn't the sexiest name on Xavier's schedule. It's a team XU beat by 26 points last season. It's 1-3. It's in nobody's projected NCAA Tournament field.

        Yet tonight's game is also the kind the Musketeers have often lost. Think Princeton last season. Marquette and Miami University two years ago. Pittsburgh, Toledo and (gulp) San Francisco the season before that.

        This is another dangerous scenario, XU playing away from home against a nonconference opponent that has circled this date on its calendar. This is the Northwestern Mutual Mayor's Game, the one USF designates as its top home date of the season. In its Mayor's Game last year, a shorthanded Dons team upset Fresno State.

        “We always want to bring a top-40 team in, and we feel Xavier is a top-40 team,” USF coach Phil Mathews said. “This is a big TV game for the Bay Area; the mayor (Willie Brown) will be here; we've got a sponsor. It's a pretty big deal for us.”

        This fall, XU coach Thad Matta repeatedly cited this game as an example of an upgraded schedule: Even games a team should win become harder when adding in a cross-country flight, three-hour time difference and an expected rowdy crowd.

        Said Matta: “I told the team after the Miami game (Wednesday): "I'm going to learn a lot about this team Saturday night. How will we respond, playing 1,000 miles from home, coming off of a big win? How do we come out and play?'”

        Junior center David West made mention of such obstacles when describing XU's win Wednesday in Oxford, a place the Musketeers usually lose: “We're trying to show we're a different team this year.”

        USF is picked to finish second in the West Coast Conference, a strong mid-major league, behind Gonzaga. The Sporting News picked the Dons 98th in the country.

        They put together five consecutive winning seasons before last year, when they lost five players to injuries and finished 12-18. But they have three starters back, two of them tabbed by numerous magazines as all-WCC first-teamers: 6-foot-9, 240-pound forward Darrell Tucker and 7-foot, 225-pound center Hondre Brewer.

        Tucker, averaging 15.5 points and 10 rebounds, is widely considered the WCC's top pro prospect. Brewer (2.8 ppg), who is splitting time with Tayo Akinsete, owns the WCC's career shots-blocked record of 206.

        “It's going to be a big-time battle down low in the post,” XU senior forward Kevin Frey said.

        USF also has former starter LyRyan Russell back at point guard after he sat out last year with an injury. Starting shooting guard John Cox and backup point guard Jason Gaines are also back after missing last season.

        Last year, an injury-riddled Dons backcourt couldn't compete with XU; USF had 25 turnovers in a 75-49 decision. USF is in better shape now but is struggling from outside. The Dons are shooting 27 percent on 3-pointers, including 17 percent (8-of-47) in their last two games.

        Tonight shapes up as a critical game for West. Other than a trip to Omaha, Neb., to play Creighton, this is his only game outside the Eastern time zone, so many NBA teams and All-American voters will have this sole opportunity to see him in person.

        “There's going to be 17 pro scouts here, and they're here to see West play,” Mathews said.


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