Wednesday, March 06, 2002

Matta wins another coach-of-year award

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The award Thad Matta won Monday as Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year had its roots in a mid-December missive.

        After being blown out in the Crosstown Shootout, Xavier was just 5-3. David West — who repeated Monday as Atlantic 10Player of the Year — had a badly sprained ankle. The first letter to the editor calling for Matta's firing had been published. The next three opponents were Kent State, Creighton and Siena; the latter two now have NCAA Tournament bids, and KSU is closing in on one.

        “We said, "We're going to play a three-game tournament before we go into conference play,'” Matta said. "We just broke down into mini-seasons and really shortened the focus for the guys.”

        The breakdowns got smaller. This wasn't one game at a time. It was four minutes at a time, as Matta would give a plan for what his team should do by the next TV timeout: “Win it 9-6” or “Outrebound them by three.”

        The Musketeers responded to the short-term goals, and those added up to a long winning streak: 12 games, the nation's longest at that point. XU (22-5) has won 17 of 19 since the Shootout.

        “What's been inspiring to me is how we've embraced the team concept,” Matta said. “Understanding that it takes everybody to win, playing as a team both offensively and defensively ... just makes you better.”

        Matta is 2-for-2 in top-coach honors, having won that award in the then-Midwestern Collegiate Conference last season at Butler, his first as a head coach.

        XU had the best record in the league at 14-2, the best mark in its A-10 history. Matta built a sturdy system that ranked in the nation's top 30 in scoring defense (62.6 ppg) and defensive field goal percentage (39.8 percent) — the best marks in either category in four decades.



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