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NCAA BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT

Nothing Exceeds Like Xs Over Texas

Xavier continues to surpass expectations, beating third-seeded Longhorns, 79-71, and will face Duke for a spot in the Final Four.

March 27, 2004|Paul Gutierrez | Times Staff Writer

ATLANTA — A new batch of X-Men superheroes is doing things never before seen in school history. They even make opposing coaches disappear.

Xavier, the seventh-seeded team in the Atlanta Regional and self-styled X-Men, pulled off a stunt Friday night that at the beginning of February would have been believable only as a comic book tale.

By firmly planting their stamp -- a huge X, if you will -- on the college basketball landscape with a 79-71 defeat of No. 3 Texas before 24,533 at the Georgia Dome in a regional semifinal, the Musketeers are in their first Elite Eight.

Xavier, which improved to 26-10 and won for the 16th time in 17 games, will meet No. 1 Duke on Sunday for the right to play in the Final Four in San Antonio. The Blue Devils defeated Illinois, 72-62, Friday night.

Texas (25-8) was led by senior guard Brandon Mouton's 21 points. Mouton, though, fouled out with 2:09 to play and the Longhorns trailing by two.

"We have guys that can make plays and they do it unselfishly at the right times," said third-year Xavier Coach Thad Matta, who is 19-3 with the Musketeers in games played in March.

"One thing everybody asked me was, 'Are you going to have enough energy to outlast [Texas'] depth?' I don't know if we have energy but I thought our guys had heart and I'll take that heart that they have for putting us in that position."

Leading the Xavier hall of heroes was senior shooting guard Romain Sato, who had a game-high 27 points.

"We just believed in ourselves and believed in all of the coaching staff," said Sato, who was five for 13 from the field but 14 for 17 from the free-throw line. "We said, 'Just play hard, take it one game at a time' and we started playing together.

"When our chemistry came together, we started winning games."

Sato was speaking of Xavier's season-turning run, starting when it was 10-9 on Feb. 1. But he could have been referring to the Texas game.

While the Longhorns had superior depth in the post, the Musketeers were helped mightily by Texas foul trouble. Texas was called for 27 fouls.

Of course, it wasn't as easy as the Musketeers' simply riding to the rescue. They had to sweat it out.

Xavier, which trailed by eight with six minutes left in the half, led by 10 with 9:34 to play but had to survive a late Longhorn rally.

The normally freewheeling Musketeers had one field goal the last nine-plus minutes of the game but made 13 of 18 free throws.

Twice the Longhorns, who were aiming for their second consecutive Final Four appearance, closed the gap to two points, at 66-64 with five minutes to play and 70-68 with three minutes to go.

And after Brian Boddicker made a three-pointer from the right wing with 16.8 seconds left, Texas trailed by one, 72-71.

Fouled immediately on the inbounds play, Sato made two free throws to get the margin back to three points.

Then, with the clock under five seconds, Longhorn guard Sydmill Harris attempted an off-balance three-pointer that clanged off the rim and came down in the hands of Xavier guard Dedrick Finn.

Convinced that Finn had gone over the back of the Longhorns in getting the rebound, Texas Coach Rick Barnes went after referee Ted Valentine.

Valentine slapped Barnes, who was at midcourt, with two technical fouls, chasing him with 3.9 seconds remaining.

"What happened at the end of the game did not need to happen," Barnes said. "I respect him and he respects me."

Said Valentine, through a pool reporter: "The rules speak for themselves."

As does the following: Xavier is one win away from becoming only the second No. 7 seed to play in the Final Four, joining the 1984 Virginia team.

"I told them we did not come here to win [only] one basketball game," Matta said.

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