Wednesday, March 17, 2004

To beat Cards, XU must stop Garcia


Sophomore drives Louisville's offense with sharp shooting and passing skills

By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer

From Selection Sunday evening to Friday night's first-round NCAA Tournament game, No. 7 seed Xavier will have had five full days to get ready for 10th-seeded Louisville.

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The job of stopping Louisville forward Francisco Garcia will likely be shared by Romain Sato and Justin Cage.
(AP photo)
That should allow plenty of time for Xavier coaches to find every nook and cranny of Louisville's tendencies by scouring hours of videotape. They won't need to watch more than a few minutes, however, to identify Louisville's most important player.

When Xavier (23-10) goes up against Louisville (20-9) at approximately 9:50 p.m. Friday in Orlando, its first objective will be to contain the Cardinals' do-everything man, Francisco Garcia. The 6-foot-7 sophomore is averaging 20.8 points, 5.0 assists and 4.8 rebounds in Louisville's last five games since recovering from ankle injuries. He leads the team with averages of 16.5 points and 4.3 assists for the season.

A first-team Conference USA member, Garcia is often freed up by his teammates through a series of cuts and screens designed to get the ball to him. Once he gets it, Garcia is as dangerous passing it as he is shooting it.

"He's a lot like a (Saint Joseph's) Delonte West, but he's got about two or three inches on him and his arms are lot longer," Xavier coach Thad Matta said. "He's also one of the best cutters in college basketball. He's got great timing on his cuts. They do a tremendous job of getting him open. We've got to find a way to stop him."

That probably will be a shared effort by two of Xavier's better defenders, Romain Sato and Justin Cage.

Sato was named to the Atlantic 10 All-Defensive team for the third straight season last week.

"I have a little feeling I might guard him," Sato said. "He's a good player. He's one who can carry the Louisville team on his back. He's great at passing and scoring, doing all the little things that make a team better. He's not just one person who wants to score. He will make everyone better."

Cage, a 6-6 freshman, has made a significant contribution to the Musketeers' perimeter defense since moving into the starting lineup in February. He has the size to match up with larger outside players who occasionally venture into the lane, and his ability to cover a lot of area enables Xavier to switch quickly from zone to man defense.

"(Cage) moves his feet a little better," Matta said. "But for just sheer 'You've got to stop a guy,' Romain's probably the best guy we have."

Cage said the fact that Louisville is a nationally known program with a well-known coach in Rick Pitino makes Xavier a little more familiar with the Cardinals. Louisville played 13 nationally televised games this season, which gave Cage a chance to evaluate Garcia.

"Just make every shot tough," Cage said of his defensive strategy. "He's real tall. Try to body him and defend him and make sure he doesn't get anything easy."

When Garcia isn't scoring, he usually is looking for teammates such as Taquan Dean (10.5 points per game), who leads the team in 3-point shots, or Luke Whitehead (11.3 points per game).

"The thing that people underestimate is his ability to pass it," Matta said of Garcia. "He has twice as many assists in conference as anybody on the team. He can beat you by scoring, but he'll also pass the ball."

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E-mail ddow@enquirer.com




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