Sunday, December 8, 2002

West takes second stage to no one

It was his game the minute he walked onto the court and the fans told him to go to hell. It was his game when he scored the first two points by going coast to coast and scoring on a jumper in the lane. It was his at halftime, when he had 13 of his team's 25 points, and it was his when he shot two clinching free throws into the screams of the student section that had jeered him.

It was definitely David West's game as he bounced off Shoemaker Center's court for the last time, half joyous, half belligerent, all defiant, his arms crossed in an X, as in X-avier. There might be players in future Crosstown Shootouts with West's talent. There might be others who come to this elegant, brutal game with the same scorching need to win. There might never be another who combines the two the way West has.

Xavier beat UC 50-44 on Saturday, satisfying West's personal mission to take the boulder off his shoulder and slam it into a UC hoop.

"In this city, we're just not looked at as equal to these guys," West said after the game. "The way they look at us gets under my skin."

He has suffered the slings and arrows of being looked down upon as Little Brother. He has burned under the notion that, no matter what, Xavier always will be Chicago to UC's New York. Where Pete Gillen liked playing up the Second City angle, and where Skip Prosser publicly ignored it, West has used it to pump his adrenaline.

It never worked better than Saturday.

"He had a complete performance," XU coach Thad Matta said. "Complete focus and concentration."

Twenty-three points. Ten rebounds. West made 10 of 19 shots. The rest of the Musketeers went 11-for-35. West made short jumpers and long jumpers. He made follow-ups and muscle shots. He was inside, outside, here and there. The only thing he missed badly was a dunk.

With UC making a run, he nailed a 17-footer to push Xavier's lead to 35-31 with 11:18 left. With 9.9 seconds left and the Musketeers up four, West sealed things, draining two free throws into the teeth of the UC student section. "That felt good," he said. "They'd been chanting some things."

Without West playing as well as he did, UC would have beaten Xavier. As it was, the pesky Bearcats kept it interesting, even as they were scoring less than Pee Wee Herman.

(When's the last time we called a UC basketball team "pesky?" UC squashes pesky, mostly. This year isn't mostly.)

"We can't score," Bearcats coach Bob Huggins said. Huggins might spend all winter trying to coax the good-shooting genie from the bottle. He has no consistent scorer beyond Leonard Stokes. And Stokes is too nice a guy. He lacks a scorer's lack of a conscience.

Stokes took just three shots in the first half, because every time he slashed the lane, Xavier double-teamed him with a big man. It seemed like eight hands were on Stokes' dribble. "I didn't want to force my shots," Stokes said.

In the second half, UC spread Xavier's defense a little more, allowing Stokes to create more. He made 5 of 9 shots and finished with 13 points. But having a conscience is no way to lead your team in scoring. Steve Logan didn't worry about forcing shots.

Meanwhile, West was beating UC for the third time in four years and feeling very good about it. He and his teammates were so caught up in congratulating themselves, they declined to shake hands with the Bearcats afterward. No matter to West, who doesn't like finishing second in a two-horse town.

"I think it comes with the territory of being a Xavier guy," he said. Maybe. But it's never fueled anyone else the way it has him.

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