CINCINNATI -- Xavier’s women’s basketball team retained bragging rights and the Kendle Cup traveling trophy with a 72-61 defeat of University of Cincinnati in Sunday’s Skyline Chili Crosstown Shootout at Fifth Third Arena.
The Musketeers cheered and hoisted the gleaming cup in what has become a tradition the last three seasons.
MUST SEE PHOTOS: XU, UC hoops face off in annual shootout
Senior guard Raeshaun Gaffney, a Mount Notre Dame and Fairfield standout who started her college career at Virginia and transferred to Xavier, said there’s nothing quite like the rivalry game – and her last one didn’t disappoint.
“(The) schools are so close to each other and a lot of us know each other,” Gaffney said. “The atmosphere – seeing that many people come out and support us, both teams, it wasn’t like a lopsided crowd at all. It was kind of like everybody knew everybody and was just happy to be here and support basketball.”
Xavier (7-1) unlocked a close game in the fourth quarter, taking advantage of a Bearcats scoring drought to vault ahead by 14 points. UC (6-3) drew no closer than eight the rest of the way.
The Musketeers parlayed UC fouls into conversions from the free-throw line, where they went 19-of-21, and also won the rebounding battle. Xavier held the Bearcats below 36 percent shooting in the second and third quarters en route to the win.
“It wasn’t our best performance of the year,” XU coach Brian Neal said, “but it may have been our toughest.”
What it means for Xavier
The victory was a crucial bounce-back for a Xavier team that succumbed to Wake Forest in a Thursday defeat in North Carolina. Plagued by slow start in which they were outscored 18-2 in the first quarter, the Musketeers never overcame a deficit in the 58-45 loss.
Veteran players led a team meeting in the locker room afterward.
“We took it upon ourselves to say, ‘Hey guys, what do we want to accomplish this year?’” Gaffney said.
Communication and attention to detail were among the attributes players took to heart when heading to UC for their second true road game. Neal expected the team to be more focused for the Shootout simply because it was against UC, but he ensured XU had the right amount of intensity following the quick turn-around from Wake.
“We really only spent one day prepping for this. I felt like getting energy level and legs back were most important in preparing for the game,” Neal said.
That was key in a broader sense, too, since the Musketeers started the week with a resume-building home win over Michigan. Within just seven days XU faced a gauntlet featuring the Wolverines, Demon Deacons and Bearcats. They came away with a 2-1 mark.
The Musketeers’ ability to disrupt UC’s offense and draw fouls when the ball was in their hands paved the way for game-changing free-throws. XU entered the outing shooting just 58.1 percent from the stripe. Against UC, it shot a searing 90.5 percent.
“We were able to continue to reset the shot clock, make them play defense longer, and eventually those add up to when we shot a bunch of free throws. You can’t put a kid like (Gaffney) at the free-throw line. She’s going to make you pay, and that’s kind of what happened,” Neal said.
The success stands to put Xavier in a good position for its next venture, the Puerto Rico Classic, which was moved to Las Vegas due to Zika virus concerns. Xavier opens the tourney Dec. 19 against Oklahoma and also faces Southern Miss and Kennesaw State.
What it means for UC
After the Bearcats witnessed the post-game trophy presentation for the elated victors, UC coach Jamelle Elliott told her team she didn’t want to feel that way again.
“That’s exactly what I verbally said,” Elliott said. “How you feel this moment, how I feel this moment, guys, when I’m on the floor, I don’t want this to happen again. Period. So now we’re set to see in 365 days’ time on Xavier’s home floor (if) hopefully we’re in a different position.”
The Bearcats are navigating the toughest part of their non-conference schedule, a trio of games that started at Ohio State, continued against Xavier and ends at home versus Georgia at noon Thursday. Elliott hopes to mine two wins before Christmas break from a stretch that features the Bulldogs, Clarion and Eastern Illinois.
She’s pleased with the progress of UC, which was 3-6 last season after its first nine games, and she thought the Bearcats did plenty of good things against Xavier.
They led by seven points early, scored 14 fast-break points throughout, and gleaned major production from point guard Ana Owens (22 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds) and forward Shanice Johnson (19 points, 5 rebounds).
Johnson was iffy to even play due to a stomach ailment. She had an IV and prescription medication 20 minutes before tip-off, Elliott said.
Fourteen turnovers did the Bearcats no favors, and neither did a flurry of fourth-quarter fouls. Starting guard Bianca Quisenberry fouled out with 7:44 to play.
“(We had) fouls down the stretch, ones that we’ve just got to let them make a lay-up without fouling them,” Elliott said.
In the end, UC amassed 18 fouls to Xavier’s 12. The Musketeers buried six straight free throws in the last 1:41 to seal the victory.
Owens said “little things” – boxing out, a couple deep possessions in transition, and the play of Gaffney – fettered UC’s aspirations. That disappointed the junior, who wanted to win the rivalry game for the first time in her career.
“I wanted to beat them. They’re what, 3 miles away? Now they’ve got bragging rights,” Owens said.
“We played with a chip on our shoulder, but kudos to Xavier. They came out and played.”