No. 7 Xavier 102, La Salle 51
The best measure of Xavier's full-throttle offense: Amber Harris scores only four points and the Musketeers still top 100.
Katie Rutan scored 15 points during Xavier's biggest opening half of the season, and the seventh-ranked Musketeers rolled to a 102-51 victory over La Salle on Tuesday night that represented a breakthrough in several ways.
The Musketeers (18-2, 7-0 Atlantic 10) matched the best start in school history. They also reached 100 points for the first time in more than nine years even though their top scorer was held down by a defense that hardly let her touch the ball.
Who would have predicted that?
''I'd have told you a lot of things went right, especially from the 3-point line,'' coach Kevin McGuff said. ''It's great when we can score 100 and somebody of Amber's talent level wasn't really involved with it.''
All 12 Musketeers got into the game and scored. They had 27 assists on 37 field goals as they hit triple figures for the first time since a 108-95 win over Toledo in triple overtime on Dec. 9, 2001. It was their first 100-point game in regulation since a 105-89 win over Eastern Kentucky on Nov. 28, 1998.
''Our offense is becoming more complete,'' said Rutan, the Musketeers' top 3-point shooter. ''Everyone is stepping up at every position. It's good we're all coming together at the end of the season when it really matters.''
The 2000-01 Xavier team also opened 18-2, a mark it now shares with a team more interested in a record finish.
''We have a bigger picture in mind as far as a team, but those things definitely help,'' said center Ta'Shia Phillips, who led with 21 points and 10 rebounds. ''When you see you're achieving your goals, that kind of pushes us forward to achieve even bigger goals. It lets you know you're on the way to where you want to be. I think that's what's going on.''
Xavier led 62-21 at halftime, exploiting every defensive lapse by La Salle (6-16, 2-5). The Explorers suited only nine players and quickly wore down against Xavier's balance. Top scorer Ashley Gale had 17 points before leaving with an injured left ankle in the closing minutes.
La Salle set its defense to stop Harris, who averages 19.6 points. That strategy left a lot of open shots for the Musketeers' guards, who struggled to make 3s early in the season.
No problem this time.
Xavier went 10 of 18 from behind the arc in the first half, rolling to a 41-point lead even though Harris took only two shots and had two points. Harris finished with a season-low four points in 20 minutes.
Everyone else had a big night, especially Rutan.
She set a freshman school record for 3-pointers last season and looked ready to become a big part of the offense when she scored a career-high 22 points in the second game of this season at Michigan. She hurt the ankle during the next game and missed the next six, unable to shoot for three weeks.
It showed in her shot. Rutan hadn't scored more than nine points in any game back, struggling to regain her touch.
''For the type of player she is and how important she is, it's hard to come back right away and make shots like you did prior to the injury,'' McGuff said. ''Slowly but surely she's making progress. Tonight was a great step. She's looked really good in practice lately. Hopefully that's a sign of things to come.''
Rutan made four 3s during a 26-2 run that essentially put the game away, shooting without hesitation whenever she got a chance.
''Even if my team had all the confidence in me, I didn't have as much in myself,'' said Rutan, who went 5 of 8 from behind the arc. ''Tonight I decided to come in with a different mindset and it showed on the court. I was telling myself I'm the best shooter in the gym and I'm going to act like it, I'm going to shoot like it, and I think I did that tonight.''