Hawaii-Xavier Preview

Less than two weeks ago, Xavier was undefeated and beginning a
stretch of games that seemed to favor it staying that way to begin
Atlantic 10 play.

Now, the 14th-ranked Musketeers find themselves trying to avoid
their first three-game losing streak in more than seven years.

After the return of Tu Holloway couldn’t help, Xavier hopes Mark
Lyons can provide a spark when the Musketeers take on Hawaii in the
consolation bracket of the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu on
Friday.

Xavier was 8-0 when an ugly brawl at the end of a 76-53 win over
crosstown rival Cincinnati on Dec. 10 led to the suspensions of
Lyons, Holloway, freshman forward Dez Wells and little-used reserve
Landen Amos.

Without all four, who combined to average 44.5 points, 12.2
rebounds and 8.5 assists, Xavier suffered a 64-42 loss to Oral
Roberts at home last Sunday, shooting 32.7 percent while playing
with only eight players available.

Even the return of Holloway couldn’t spark a stagnant offense,
as the Musketeers fell 68-58 to Long Beach State on Thursday.
Holloway finished with 17 points in 40 minutes, but Xavier was down
16 early in the second half and couldn’t complete a late rally.

Holloway was held to three field goal attempts and five points
in the first half. Of his 17 points, 12 came in the final 12 1/2
minutes with the 49ers already ahead by a comfortable margin.

Coach Chris Mack hopes the end of Lyons’ suspension will help
get the offense going. Lyons is averaging 17.4 points and is 13 for
30 (43.3 percent) from 3-point range. He’s also contributing 3.8
rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.4 steals per game.

“That’s nothing new. But when (Holloway) doesn’t have a couple
of running mates that take a little pressure off and are able to
get to the rim easier maybe than the guys we have on the floor
tonight, that’s the game plan,” Mack said. ”But hopefully as we
start to welcome these other guys back, we’ll be a little tougher
team than to key on one guy on the perimeter.”

Wells and Amos will miss the last two games of the
tournament.

While their season has changed quickly, Mack insists there is no
panicking. Xavier hasn’t lost three in a row since Nov. 30-Dec. 18,
2004.

“We’ve got competitive kids,” Mack said. ”They know it’s a long
season. We have the ability within 24 hours to feel a lot better
about ourselves because of the tournament format. We’ve got to come
out tomorrow night and quickly feel better about ourselves.”

The Musketeers will face another quality opponent in Hawaii
(5-5), which had its three-game winning streak snapped with a 65-62
loss to Auburn on Thursday. Leading scorer Zane Johnson had 18
points and six rebounds, but the Rainbow Warriors trailed most of
the way, taking their first lead with 8 seconds left. The Tigers
scored on the next possession with 3 to go.

Hawaii is facing its second ranked opponent this season. It lost
73-54 to then-No. 22 Gonzaga on Nov. 19.

Xavier’s only previous meeting against Hawaii was a 70-58 win in
the 2002 NCAA tournament.

The winner will take on either Clemson or Southern Illinois on
Sunday for third place in the tournament.