Monday, March 10, 2003

Muskies won't sit on their laurels

Team wants to add A-10 Tourney title to regular season's

By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Xavier is just where it wants to be entering the Atlantic 10 Tournament: with the A-10 regular-season championship already won.

The No. 11 Musketeers could not have planned on winning 15 games in a row to close the season, however.

Nor could they expect eight straight A-10 Player of the Week awards. David West won that honor for the seventh time Sunday - a new A-10 record. Romain Sato has also won the award.

Throughout the last two and a half months, Xavier (24-4) has both blown out teams from the start and won in the final seconds. And either West or Sato has come up with one or two big games a week.

With all of that, coach Thad Matta says the Musketeers still haven't played their best basketball for 40 minutes, although Saturday's 96-65 throttling of Temple at Cintas Center was about as good as it gets.

Consider that Xavier put four players in double figures and made 27 field goals with 26 assists. The only non-assisted basket was an offensive rebound tip-in by Anthony Myles.

Defensively, Xavier was just as good, especially in the second half. The Owls made 31 percent of their shots, essentially shooting themselves out of the game.

John Chaney's tactic to foul Xavier down the stretch backfired as the Musketeers made 28-of-32 free throws.

The lopsided win was a good sign for Matta, and suggests that Xavier might be close to getting that solid 40 minutes of play.

Certainly, in the three games leading up to Temple, the Musketeers needed all 40 minutes just to escape with a victory. At this point, Matta would rather see more games like Saturday's blowout than the one-point or overtime wins.

"To go on the run we have, it takes some unbelievable breaks," Matta said. "And we've gotten some of those."

Close wins or not, Xavier is the favorite to win the A-10 Tournament. Even though Dayton (21-5) will play with a decided home-court advantage, the Musketeers have defeated the Flyers twice this season, once at Dayton, and redeemed an early season defeat to Richmond, the only A-10 loss for XU. If Xavier goes through the tournament unscathed, that would move the winning streak to 18 games going into the NCAA Tournament.

Players are already hearing talk about how it might be better to lose a game in the A-10 Tournament than enter the NCAAs riding the long winning streak.

"No, we just want to keep going," West said. "We're just going to keep getting better."

XU in A-10 Tournament

Where: Dayton

First game: vs. winner of today's UMass- Geo. Wash. game

When: 12:05 p.m., Thursday

TV: Fox Sports Net

Tickets: $80 or $125 all sessions; 745-3411

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