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College basketball

Big man shines at small school

By BRIAN LANDMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 22, 2003

If David West were at Arizona, Duke or Kansas, he likely would be the favorite as the national player of the year. But he is not. On either score.

West, a 6-foot-9, 240-pound senior forward, plays for Xavier, a small school in Cincinnati that is rarely, if ever, the centerpiece of SportsCenter.

"I don't know if there's a guy playing more solid basketball than he is," Xavier coach Thad Matta said. "In every phase, he is doing a great job. He can get a rebound and lead the break, or he can trail the break and hit a 3 or run to the post or get himself open." West averages 20 points and 12.3 rebounds for the No. 14 Musketeers, who visit No. 25 Dayton at 2 p.m. today for the top spot in the Atlantic 10 West. ESPN will carry the showdown for everyone to see. From east to west.

Not that West is likely to notice. Individual accolades are not for him even though he is a candidate for virtually all of them, including the Naismith Award.

"He's all about Xavier winning right now," Matta said. "Whatever it takes."

Consider: He had just 12 points and six rebounds against La Salle on Wednesday, ending his streak of double doubles at 10. Xavier won 93-71, its 10th in a row. In the Musketeers' first game against Dayton on Feb. 8, West had one of the best performances in A-10 history: a career-high 47 points on 15-for-26 shooting from the floor and 16-for-19 from the line to go with 18 rebounds.

"It pays dividends when you stay in school," Dayton coach Oliver Purnell said. "You face certain defenses, zones and doubles, and you just become a better player. It's called experience. Plus he works at it physically."

Rather than leave for the NBA, a temptation he flirted with after last season, West returned to round out his game and raise his stock even more.

"He's got more of a mentality to score and put together a solid 40 minutes for us," Matta said. "Defensively, he's done a much better job this year than last year. We've asked David to do a lot. We've asked him to step out on the perimeter and guard people as well as defend in the post." INVALUABLE WALKON: North Carolina freshman forward David Noel could have received a football scholarship from numerous schools, including UNC, but chose to play basketball and walked on. Coach Matt Doherty has started Noel, a 6-6, 216-pound forward, the past six games. And he has averaged 10.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.7 steals.

"I've talked about confidence," Doherty said. "A coach can give a player half of the package, and the player has to come up with the other half. By putting David in the starting lineup, I gave him that half, and he came up with the other half." DID YOU KNOW?: For the third consecutive season, there's a new Pac-10 record-holder for free throws. Oregon's floppy-haired junior guard, Luke Ridnour, has hit 59 in a row. AWARD WATCH: Florida senior forward Matt Bonner is one of 20 finalists for the Naismith Award. The list includes Keith Bogans (Kentucky), Jason Gardner (Arizona), Nick Collison (Kansas), Brian Cook (Illinois), Jarvis Hayes (Georgia) and Dwyane Wade (Marquette).

MUST-SEE TV: Ch. 10 has a doozy Sunday as No. 6 Kansas plays at No. 5 Oklahoma at 4 p.m. The Jayhawks have won seven in a row and lead the Big 12, and the Sooners have won eight of nine.

THE LAST WORD: "I think it's a good concept. We're the first game of the day, and I hope it gets the day off to a good start." -- Creighton coach Dana Altman, whose No. 17 Bluejays play Fresno State in one of nine made-for-TV "Bracket Buster" games today involving mid-major conference teams.

-- Brian Landman covers men's college basketball. He can be reached at (813) 226- 3347 or by e-mail at landman@sptimes.com

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