Sunday, March 21, 2004

Matta looks for more from Muskie rookies

Xavier notebook

By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer

ORLANDO, Fla. - Their combined stat line from Friday night looks like it should for two average freshmen.

Except that Justin Doellman and Justin Cage have meant more to Xavier in the second half of this season than two points, eight rebounds, four turnovers and no field goals. That's what the two starting freshmen contributed in XU's first-round NCAA Tournament win against Louisville at T.D. Waterhouse Centre. Xavier coach Thad Matta said the team needs more from them for seventh-seeded Xavier (24-10) to have a chance to upset No. 2 seed Mississippi State today in the second round.

"They got off to a slow start, and I think that had to do with playing in their first game of the NCAA Tournament," Matta said. "I told them afterward, 'Hey, you've got one game under your belt. You're no longer freshmen in this Tournament.' We really need those two to step up and play well."

Matta was not completely disappointed in the freshmen swingmen. In fact, he thought they made some good plays against Louisville, Doellman with his passing and Cage on the defensive end.

Three first-half fouls limited Cage to 12 minutes, and Doellman did not shoot well until he made two big free throws at the end of the game.

"I've got to come out more aggressive," Cage said. "Me getting in foul trouble kind of set me back."

THE DIFFERENCE MAKER: Mississippi State shooting guard Shane Power has started the last 12 games in place of center Marcus Campbell so the Bulldogs (26-3) could become a better transition team. The Bulldogs are averaging 77.4 points per game.

MSU coach Rick Stansbury said playing with better athletes on the floor has enabled Mississippi State to rebound better as well.

"We are more skilled and quicker," Stansbury said.

GET HIM A UNIFORM: Xavier video and equipment intern Brandon Miller knows what it takes to beat Mississippi State. He played for Butler last season and hit the game-winning shot to upset the fifth-seeded Bulldogs in the first round of the tournament.

"I remember somebody telling me Brandon hit the shot to win the game, and I remember laughing thinking that's about the 25th game-winning shot he's hit," said Matta, who coached Miller at Butler in 2000-01. "I was also proud because Mississippi State drilled us in Madison Square Garden earlier in the year and (Butler players) were able to get the job done."



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