Saturday, February 09, 2002

Formidable foe tougher at home


Bonnies senior: 'We're not going to lose on Saturday'

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Going to St. Bonaventure is the trip Atlantic 10 teams dread.

        First you fly to Buffalo. Then you bus two hours to Olean, N.Y. Then you wonder where in the world you are.

        “The trip out there is terrible,” Xavier junior center David West said. “Then there's not really much there — no life, no excitement, bad hotel.”

        And then you meet the natives. Jay Bilas ranked the Reilly Center as one of his “Top 5 Hostile Homes” in an ESPN.com piece last winter, speaking of the wild atmosphere in the 6,000-seat arena, which is usually full.

        “The fans are right there on top of you,” XU fifth-year senior Alvin Brown said. “It's just a tough environment.”

        None of the current Musketeers has won in Olean, and tonight's game is the third trip for Brown. With the No.72 RPI it owned Friday, St.Bonaventure (13-8, 5-5 A-10) represents the highest-rated opponent XU (17-3, 9-0) will face the rest of the season.

        It's little wonder XU's 12-game winning streak, which stands alone as the nation's longest, could be in jeopardy.

        “We've gotta be mentally tough, because they're going to play their best game of the year against us,” West said.

        He probably assumes correctly. Though the Bonnies are 5-6 since their 8-2 start and have lost two consecutive home games for the first time in four seasons, they promise to be revved up for this one.

        “We have a big home game against Xavier ... and we're going to come out hard against them,” senior guard J.R. Bremer told the Olean Times Herald. “We're not going to lose on Saturday.”

        That quote drew attention when some XU players read it Friday at the airport, waiting to take off. “We can remember that,” sophomore guard Romain Sato said.

        The Musketeers will face an up-tempo style unlike anything they've seen yet. The Bonnies lead the A-10 in four offensive categories, ranking in the nation's top 10 in three of them: made 3-pointers, 10.8 per game (first nationally); free throw shooting, 76.1 percent (sixth); and scoring offense, 83.0 ppg (eighth). Forty-seven percent of their field goal attempts come from 3-point range, and they hit 37.2 percent of those — best in the league.

        Bremer is the catalyst. His 25.1-point scoring average ranks third nationally. Point guard Marques Green (15.3 ppg) leads the A-10 in steals (3.5) and ranks second in assists (6.2).

        It's a feast-or-famine offense. The shots fell in impressive victories at Connecticut and Dayton. They didn't in a road loss at Fordham and home defeats to Massachusetts and Richmond.

        “When they're on, they're better than very good,” XU coach Thad Matta said.

        XU counters with the league's top defensive ranking in all three categories: scoring (61.0 ppg), field goal shooting (38.4 percent) and 3-point shooting (28.7).

        The frenetic style Bonnies coach Jan van Breda Kolff instituted also relies on ballhandling; the Bonnies lead the A-10 in turnover margin (plus-6.9) and steals (10.0 avg.). But if you break the press, the defense is a matador's cape. The Bonnies are last in the A-10 defensively in field goal shooting (51.1 percent) and 3-point shooting (39.0).

        “They'll trap you in the backcourt, they'll trap you in the halfcourt, so you have to attack them,” Matta said. “You can't play scared, just trying not to turn it over. We have to find ways to score.”

        Bonaventure usually plays four wing players. Its post play is subpar; it has been outrebounded by 6.6 per game. West and senior forward Kevin Frey could have big nights.

        “We'll have our hands full,” van Breda Kolff said, “because I don't think Xavier has lost to anyone since, like, 1999.”

       



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