Sunday, March 17, 2002

SULLIVAN: XU needs its biggest muscle against OU


Forward West must walk a fine line

By Tim Sullivan, tsullivan@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

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        DALLAS — David West doesn't want to back down, but he can't afford to sit down.

        Xavier's All-America forward must make effective use of his muscles if the Musketeers are to match up with Oklahoma this afternoon, but he also must endeavor to avoid fouls. He must walk the NCAA Tournament tightrope between aggression and discretion — banging bodies while keeping his head.

        He must be all things to all people, particularly referees.

        “I won't look to avoid any contact,” West vowed Saturday afternoon. “When you get into that (mindset), you lose your aggressiveness and it takes away from your game. I'm going to go play. I'm not going to worry if the refs call fouls. I'll just have to adjust.”

        West's fret-free posture belies the problematic nature of his predicament. Oklahoma's game is to grind it out beneath the basket and the Sooners have the numbers to turn attrition to their advantage. Xavier, meanwhile, has all the interior depth of Dude, Where's My Car?

        “If they'll let us bang, that's a big key for us,” said Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson.

        Xavier's key is to not get locked into a toe-to-toe game. The Muskies must play Muhammad Ali to Oklahoma's Joe Frazier, exploiting superior speed rather than trading punches. Though Sampson said Saturday tight officiating would work to his team's detriment, Xavier is even more poorly positioned to trade cheap fouls.

        Behind West is Anthony Coleman, a willowy 6-foot-10 freshman who looks as if he could be budged by a mild breeze. Oklahoma, meanwhile, starts former University of Cincinnati behemoth Aaron McGhee (6-8, 250 pounds) at power forward and substitutes with the 6-6, 220-pound Daryan Selvy. What the Sooners lack in beauty they more than make up for in biceps.

        “They're a very physical basketball team,” XU coach Thad Matta said. “I met (Dallas Cowboys coach) Dave Campo at the hotel. I wanted to borrow some of the Cowboys to match up with those guys.”

        Among the most enchanting elements of the NCAA Tournament is its unpredictability, Kent State's upset of Alabama being only the most recent example. Yet an inspired effort is not always enough to overcome a problem matchup. Inside manpower being Xavier's drawback, keeping West on the floor may be both the Muskies' top priority and only chance this afternoon.

        “We're not going to back down from anybody,” West said, defiantly. “You have to kind of lay it all out. If you don't want your season to end, you've got to be physical. If somebody knocks you, knock them back. You can't back down. With a team like Oklahoma, they feed off that type of thing. If they sense that a team's playing soft or scared against them, they'll rip you apart.”

        Up to a point, West is spot-on. If he fails to assert himself, Oklahoma may bludgeon the Muskies underneath the basket. But if he mixes it up too much, he may wind up a spectator.

        Foul problems limited West to 28 minutes of playing time in Friday's first-round game against Hawaii — his lowest time total since December. If West doesn't play more than that against Oklahoma, the Muskies might get mauled.

        “If we're even, we don't mind sitting him down to protect him from picking up a third foul in the first half,” Matta said. “But at this stage of the season, you know it's do-or-die and he needs to be on the court for us.”

        David West will surely play hard this afternoon. He needs to play smart.

        Contact Tim Sullivan at 768-8456 or e-mail: tsullivan@enquirer.com.

       



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