Forward thinking

Jason King
Yahoo! Sports

PHOENIX – As they crowded around the television set – scouting their next opponent – anything seemed possible for the Xavier basketball team.

Not even an hour had passed since Thursday's 79-75 overtime victory over West Virginia catapulted them into the Elite Eight, and already the Musketeers were exuding that swagger, that air of invincibility that can make a good team great.

A Saturday upset of No. 1 seed UCLA … a spot in the Final Four for the first time in school history … heck, maybe even a national championship. Nothing seemed out of reach for players such as Drew Lavender and Jason Love as they huddled around the locker room TV, already looking ahead to the next game.

"We feel like we can match up with anyone," Love said. "We've got good guards, good forwards – guys that can go off at any minute. We're a confident team right now."

Love stopped and smiled.

"It also helps," he said, "to have a little luck sometimes, too."


Love wasn't the only Musketeer to use that word after Thursday's squeaker. Guard Stanley Burrell mentioned it. Head coach Sean Miller did, too.

They may have chosen a poor term, considering there was nothing fluky about a victory in which Xavier made numerous answer shots and some key three-pointers down the stretch to emerge in a game it truly deserved to win.

Still, despite their gutty performance, the Musketeers knew they still needed a bit of good fortune if they wanted to advance to the Elite Eight for the second time since 2004.

And so, as West Virginia's Joe Alexander stepped to the free-throw line with the scored tied and 14 seconds remaining, Burrell began barking at his opponent as he toed the foul stripe.

"I told (Alexander), 'Hey, you're going to miss this,' " Burrell said. "I felt bad for talking to someone at the free-throw line. I didn't want to (practice) poor sportsmanship. But at the end of the day, my talking shouldn't affect him. He's got to knock it down."

But Alexander didn't. Instead he missed the foul shot, and Xavier emerged in overtime by hitting three straight three-pointers that turned a 72-69 deficit into a 78-74 lead. West Virginia never threatened again.

"This is what we've worked for," guard Dante Jackson said. "We don't ever want it to end."

Xavier, the No. 3 seed in the West Region, is now 30-6. The Musketeers will play UCLA at 6:40 ET Saturday.

No. 7 seed West Virginia ends its season 26-11. The Mountaineers battled back from an 18-point deficit to force overtime. Ultimately their undoing came from behind the three-point line, where they were outscored 33-3. West Virginia made just one of its 11 attempts from beyond the arc.

"I don't know what we're shooting on the year," Alexander said, "but it's definitely better than 10 percent."

That's better than B.J. Raymond was shooting prior to Thursday's overtime period, when he collected all eight of his points. His biggest shot came on an in-bounds play with 2 seconds remaining on the shot clock. Xavier had called for a lob pass but, with the paint crowded with defenders, Raymond ended up with the ball instead near the right wing.

"He's the pitcher that always thinks he's going to throw a strike," Miller said. "He's the shooter that always thinks he's going to make it. When he's in his mode, he's tough to stop."

Perhaps – but not as tough as forward Josh Duncan, who scored 18 of his 26 points after intermission.

With Duncan, Love and C.J. Anderson in the paint and seasoned guards such as Burrell and Lavender on the perimeter, Xavier is more than confident that it can match up against a UCLA team that has labored to score at times.

"We've been battled-tested," Lavender said. "We've been in tough situations. We've stayed poised when our backs are against the wall."

Still, even then, it hasn't always been enough.

Last season the Musketeers appeared to have Ohio State beaten in the second round of the NCAA tournament, but Buckeyes guard Ron Lewis made an improbable three-pointer with 2 seconds remaining in regulation.

Xavier ended up losing in overtime, and Ohio State and Greg Oden eventually advanced to the national title game.

Earlier this season Xavier suffered a two-point loss to Miami (Ohio) after committing a foul on a three-point shot in the closing seconds.

"I thought about that a little bit (on Thursday)," Love said. "I kept thinking, 'Not this time. Not again. Luck has to be on our side.' "

It was Thursday. And it helped to have a pretty good team, too.

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