Friday, October 18, 2002

Xavier's West, Sato best duo in country

Both in line for All-America seasons

By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer

David West averaged 18.3 points and 9.8 rebounds last season.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
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        They are the most prolific all-around duo in college basketball. Inside and outside, Xavier's David West and Romain Sato are a potential All-America combination.

        Together last season, they averaged 34.4 points and 16.4 rebounds per game and led Xavier to a 14-2 Atlantic-10 record and 26-6 overall mark. And they did all of this as opposing defenses focused on stopping them - especially West, who was subject to double teams all season.

        "Last year, we saw so many junk defenses," said Xavier coach Thad Matta. "I saw more defenses in two months than I did in eight years last year. Triangle-and-two, box-and-one, chaser-and-one. All that stuff."

        They're ready for it this year, Matta said. And they better be. Everyone already knew about the 6-foot-9, 240-pound West, a second-team All-American last season. But Sato, once a budding star known to few outside of the conference, is on the short list of top shooting guards in the nation.

        Last year's sophomore season was so much of a coming-out year for Sato, he joins West in a group of 50 players on the John R. Wooden Award Preseason All-America Team.

Romain Sato averaged 16.1 points and 6.6 rebounds last season.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
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        "His freshman year, he was doing a lot of learning," West said of Sato. "Last year, he really came into his own. He's going to continue to improve. That's what we need him to do."

        West has been the point of emphasis at Xavier for a couple years, but the Musketeers' offense didn't begin to thrive until Sato proved to be a consistent outside threat.

        "You have a very good low-post scorer, and a very good perimeter scorer, that's obvious," Matta said. "But we don't tag them as an inside-outside combo. We sort of look at them as, 'Here's what they can do for us.' "

        Whether or not Xavier advertises its two stars as a 1-2 punch, even Matta admitted that other teams and media look at West and Sato in concert. And the stats demonstrate even further how rare the tandem is nationwide. Only Arizona's Luke Walton and Jason Gardner scored more than West and Sato last season, with a combined 36.1 points per game. But the Arizona duo's rebounding numbers were less at 10.2 per game. And with the 6-8 Walton often drifting from the basket, he can hardly be considered a traditional low-post player.

        Kansas' point guard-forward combination of Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison are certainly in the same class, but their 30.4 points and 13.1 rebounds don't quite measure up.

        Alabama got a preview of what could be in last season's NCAA Tournament when then-freshman point guard Mo Williams scored 33 points in a first-round win against Florida Atlantic. Add that production with Erwin Dudley's 15.2 points and 8.9 rebounds, and the Crimson Tide could be on to something.

        Still, Xavier's version has proven its ability over the course of a season.

        West and Sato aren't about to take credit as the nation's best duo, though. They leave that up to outsiders.

        "This is a team thing anyway," West said. "We understand that we'll get the defense's best shot. That's just the way people see us."

        Sato welcomes the increased defensive attention, even if it makes it harder for him to score."We don't have anything to worry about," Sato said, "because we've got five people out there who can score. A lot of people will focus on me and David, but other people like Lionel (Chalmers) and Dave Young can score, too."

        When both West and Sato are at the top of their game, Xavier can be very hard to beat. One of the Musketeers' most impressive performances last season was an 84-77 win against St. Joseph's in which West scored 24 points, and Sato scored 22 and led the team with 11 rebounds. As a team, Xavier shot 50 percent in that game.

        But in a loss to Temple four days after that game, West shot 5-of-14 for 12 points and Sato went scoreless, missing seven shots.

        That's not likely to happen often, if at all, this season as Matta and West say they've seen a noticeable improvement in Sato's game.

        "At times last year, teams over-focused on me and gave (Sato) easy opportunities," West said. "This year will be kind of the same, but they're going to have to respect him. He's as deadly as anyone in the country."


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