Friday, January 10, 2003

XU running on empty with no relief in sight

Small roster leaves starting 5 gasping

By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer

When St. Bonaventure comes to Cintas Center on Saturday, the Bonnies will bring a 10-man rotation. Three days later, Xavier faces La Salle's nine-man rotation, and on Jan. 18, the Musketeers travel to Massachusetts, which plays eight men on a regular basis.

Meanwhile, 21st-ranked Xavier (9-4, 0-1 Atlantic 10) is currently outmanned because coach Thad Matta has been forced into a seven-man rotation in which some players don't get a break during the game.

Freshman point guard Dedrick Finn has taken on the biggest load and played 120 minutes in three games since senior guard Lionel Chalmers went down with a broken foot Dec. 31 against Creighton.

Without departed players Dave Young and Anthony Coleman, Matta has just two viable reserves in freshmen forward/guard Will Caudle and forward Angelo Smith.

Matta originally said walk-on freshman guard Keenan Christiansen would play more because of Chalmers' injury, but Christiansen has yet to see significant minutes.

Christiansen will likely be used to spell a guard for a minute or two.

"I think coach will try to get Keenan (Christiansen) in a little more," Musketeers starting guard Keith Jackson said. "I think (Matta) realizes he needs to try to get Keenan in just to get guys a break."

Matta has trimmed practice time, and moved to split morning and afternoon sessions to keep players fresh.

That helps Finn, who wears a protective sleeve over his left shin.

"It's just a little sensitive," Finn said. "Even though practice is shorter, we're still going to go hard. The games are a 40-minute war."

Aside from a 15-minute halftime, the only breaks players get occur during media timeouts, approximately every four minutes, and 30-second timeouts called by the teams.

"The coaches call a timeout if we need to," Xavier forward Romain Sato said.

The Musketeers used three of their four 30-second timeouts against Richmond.

Young and Coleman accounted for only 5.7 points per game, but Young averaged more than 15 minutes per game and Coleman averaged almost six minutes in the five games in which he played.

Chalmers' absence is the biggest setback. He logged more than 30 minutes per game while averaging 12.5 points. He is expected to be out for at least 2 1/2 more weeks.

In Xavier's three games without Chalmers, who was injured in the first three minutes against Creighton, Caudle has averaged 15.0 minutes, while Smith has averaged 4.7.

Neither player can replace Chalmers, who is a guard. Instead, Smith is being forced to learn in a pressure situation by subbing for forward David West.

Before, if Matta wanted to spell West, he'd insert another guard and play a smaller lineup.

Jackson said there isn't much players can do about having to play a lot of minutes other than take care of themselves between games.

"We have to do a lot of icing and treatment," Jackson said.

In the meantime, Xavier has lost two straight games to Alabama and Richmond. The Musketeers allowed Richmond to recover from a nine-point halftime deficit Tuesday, thanks to sloppy execution.

West has made three of his last 19 shots and received a technical foul for arguing a non-call Tuesday.

"Me and him always talk about that," Sato said. "He has to play ball and don't worry about it. The referees will make calls and you can't change it."

Sato, who is Xavier's second-leading scorer, said it will help when he and West start hitting shots at the same time. Lately, only one of them has been shooting well while the other struggles.

"That's the one thing that we need to do," Sato said. "We have to focus on playing hard."


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