Wednesday, November 20, 2002

For XU, frequent flier miles pile up fast

Tired Muskies get last-minute notice on California trip

By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer

PALO ALTO, Calif. - Xavier had to beat St. Peter's to get to a second round Preseason NIT game against Stanford tonight, but actually getting to Stanford was no minor event in itself.

Because the NIT books flights for guaranteed winners only after the game is over, Xavier didn't have plane tickets for its 27-person traveling crew until late Monday following the final buzzer of the Stanford/Boston University game.

By that time, Xavier players were back in their dorm rooms, waiting to see who would win and whether they would be flying to California or playing host to Boston tonight.

Coach Thad Matta didn't leave his office until 1 a.m. Tuesday, while some assistants were there until 3 going over game video. None of them had packed clothes before the St. Peter's game, but everyone had to be ready to to catch a 10:30 a.m. Tuesday flight out of Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

The flight was the longest amount of time players got to relax Tuesday. After checking into their hotel at 7 p.m., players and coaches left at 9:30 for practice, ate dinner at 11 and were in their rooms by 1 a.m.

Cross-country travel one day after and one day before a game isn't the ideal situation, but Xavier officials knew they would be doing that once the NIT made the final decision in October to give the home game to Stanford.

"It's just part of being in the Preseason NIT," Matta said. "I think it's good for us. We talked about not worrying about the conditions and going and playing and the time difference at 10:30 at night. Welcome to the Preseason NIT."

On a neutral court and under normal travel conditions, Xavier probably would be a considerable favorite over the Cardinal, who are beginning to rebuild after losing three starters from last season's team, including two early departures to the NBA in Casey Jacobsen and Curtis Borchardt.

But playing at home in Maples Pavilion with a 10:30 p.m. start time provides Stanford an edge given the fact that it will be 7:30 p.m. on the West Coast, a normal tipoff time for Stanford. And road-weary Xavier comes in needing a win to get to the semifinals of the Preseason NIT for the first time ever.

"We break this down to a two-game tournament," Matta said. "And we're just trying to win our bracket. And from there, as soon as this game ends, we'll shift to Florida A&M and get on with it. But it's a good opportunity to get a chance to play a power of college basketball."

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