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Queen City Shootout
Alexander Wolff
December 22, 1997
Bitter crosstown rivalries are disappearing but not in Cincinnati, where Xavier now reigns supreme
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December 22, 1997

Queen City Shootout

Bitter crosstown rivalries are disappearing but not in Cincinnati, where Xavier now reigns supreme

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Brown's shot augured grim things for the Bearcats, who went on to lose their next big game, to Kansas; their point guard, Charles Williams, two months later in an eligibility imbroglio; and their star forward, Ruben Patterson, last summer for accepting benefits in violation of NCAA rules. (Last week Patterson exhausted his appeals and learned that he won't be able to rejoin the Bearcats until Jan. 18.) With two emergency imports from Cincinnati's Humanitarian Bowl-bound football team seeing action, the Bearcats have had to throttle back their use of full-court pressure. Even Huggs Inn, a sort of T.G.I. Bearcats to which Huggins lent his name, recently began operating under a more Xavierian handle, the Blue Moon Saloon.

Last season's Shootout had just the opposite effect on the Musketeers. "That shot put us in the mainstream," says Brown, one of six regulars who are back from a year ago. The Top 10 is an unaccustomed spot for a school that, under Gillen, would typically go unnoticed during the Midwestern Collegiate Conference season before beating some higher seed in the NCAAs come March. Now, with Xavier in the deeper and higher-profile Atlantic 10, Brown concedes that "we can't sneak up on anybody anymore." After the Musketeers suffered their only defeat this season, an 80-72 loss on Dec. 9 at Miami of Ohio's Millett Hall, RedHawks fans stormed the floor.

Prosser isn't sure Xavier would have made its recent progress without its crosstown rival as a prod. "I read someplace that you don't criticize success, you analyze it," says Prosser. "I wanted to take the best things from their program and use them. Bob's teams are always very hard-nosed, always on the attack."

The Musketeers made a blowout of the game Saturday just that way, with Cincygnatty full-court pressure. They need to score to set up the press, and their matched pair of a backcourt, Brown and Gary Lumpkin, teammates since the seventh grade back in New Castle, Del., obliged, evenly splitting 46 points. That allowed Xavier to floor-burn and chest-bump its way to a 22-2 run in the first half, a stretch that so excited Prosser's 20-year-old son, Scott, that he suffered a mild seizure and had to be attended to behind the Musketeers bench, and discombobulated the Bearcats' offense. Guard D'Juan Baker, who was leading Cincinnati with 26.0 points per game, committed eight turnovers and didn't score a basket. Center Kenyon Martin and Bobby Brannen, the forward who has replaced All-America Danny Fortson and was averaging 20.8, combined for only two buckets—cold frontcourt shooting that called to mind the name of the local delicacy that sponsors the Shootout: Skyline Chili. "Xavier was always second to UC in the city," Brown said after the game. "I think that's changing now."

Prosser has just the personality to take on the Bearcats. A Pittsburgher whose wife, Nancy, is a nurse assigned to a helicopter trauma unit, he has screened for Musketeers a tape in which Steelers linebacker Jack Lambert, seeing a Dallas Cowboy patronizingly tap the head of a Pittsburgh placekicker who has just muffed a field goal attempt, levels the offending Cowboy. Message: Permit no one to intimidate you. At the same time Prosser recognizes the trouble Gillen got into by letting the rivalry affect him, and he has struck a kind of balance. "Coach Prosser doesn't want the same hostility that Coach Huggins and Coach Gillen had," says Xavier forward T.J. Johnson, "but that doesn't mean he wants less emotion."

There's a place for balance beyond the Shootout too. "I tell my guys that the same pundits who didn't have them ranked a year ago now think they're the greatest thing since Cheerios, and it's not like over the summer those guys visited the Dalai Lama and got the gift of wisdom," Prosser says. "So we can't worry about expectations. It's not that we don't have our own expectations or that we want to equivocate on them. It's just that until we beat Cincinnati last year, people were still calling us Eggs-avier."

On Saturday someone asked Prosser about one of the few blemishes in the box score—his team's four-for-17 three-point shooting. He wouldn't bite. "I'm not hanging any crape on this one," he said.

It's easier to say that in an era of good feelings. And good feelings feel even better when you win.

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