Big Game for Love; Huge Game for Xavier
Feb. 26, 2009
By Adam Kiefaber
CINCINNATI - Playing in front of your family and friends is always a big deal for an athlete.
For junior center Jason Love, it is no different.
"I have like 30 tickets right now. I don't know if everybody is going to be able to come, but I am definitely excited," Love said.
"But at the same time, it is still another A-10 game and definitely a really important one."
The game is very important for Xavier (22-5, 10-3 in A-10) in regards to their quest for a third straight Atlantic 10 regular season title. Currently, the Musketeers are in first place with a 10-3 conference record, but Temple (17-9, 9-3), Rhode Island (21-8, 10-4) and Dayton (23-5, 9-4) are close behind.
With only three regular season games remaining, Xavier controls its own destiny. The Musketeers will be challenged in those three contests starting tonight against St. Joseph's (14-12, 7-5), Dayton at home on March 5 and at Richmond (15-13, 7-6) on March 7.
"For us to have a chance to play a game this meaningful late in the college basketball season, I think is something that we all are looking forward too especially Jason Love," Xavier head coach Sean Miller said.
So far this season, Love has played well against Philadelphian teams, averaging 11.5 points and eight rebounds in contests against La Salle and Temple. Overall, in both games, Love has showed incredible touch, making 7-of-9 of his field goals and making all nine of his free-throw attempts.
Offensively Love has been nearly perfect against his hometown teams. However, both of those games were played in the comfort of his new home, the Cintas Center in Cincinnati.
Recently, outside of the Cintas Cinter, Xavier has been struggling and has lost its last three road games. St. Joe's will undoubtedly be another tough road test.
Making matters more difficult for Xavier and Love will be the challenge of defending one of the conference's premier players in St. Joe's senior Ahmad Nivins.
"It is not just going to be a challenge for me, but our whole team to play team defense against him and keep him under control as far as off the glass and keeping his points down," Love said. "You know it's going to be hard, but it is definitely something I think we can do."
According to Coach Miller, Nivens has been "monster" all season and his statistics back that title up. Currently, Nivens is tops in the conference in four major categories. He is actually tied for first in scoring with 19.5 points per game, first in field goal percentage (64.1 percent) and first in minutes played (39.5 minutes per game).
"He is very agile and in great condition. Many times he gets big baskets in the second half outrunning his opponent, which is an amazing thing when you think about the fact he never comes out of the game," Miller said.
While in the game, Nivens has been close to unstoppable inside the paint. Many of his points are scored off rebounds, in which he also leads the conference with 11.6 per game (also good for sixth in the nation).
Fortunately for Xavier, its best defender, according to coach Miller, is Love. Miller also believes that Love's "experience" guarding so many talented post players throughout the last three seasons will help limit Nivens' productivity in the scoring column.
However, Nivens is not the only one on the Hawks' roster that can hurt you offensively. Junior guard Darrin Govens and senior guard Tasheed Carr have the ability to score and each averages over 13 points per game.
"We want to be in big games at this time of year and I know what is required and I think our players do as well," Miller said.
The two teams will tip it off at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.