Xavier, Cincinnati rivalry game moves back to campus

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CINCINNATI (AP) Cincinnati's intra-city college basketball rivalry is back on campus.

Xavier will make the 2 1/2-mile drive to the University of Cincinnati on Wednesday night to play their annual game. What makes this trip different is that it's been three years in the making.

The last time the game was on a campus was Dec. 10, 2011, when Xavier was the host and won by 23 points. An on-court brawl in the closing seconds led to four players from each team suspended and hurt both programs' reputations.

The schools considered putting the rivalry on hold, but decided instead to move it to a neutral site - a downtown arena - for two years. There were no incidents as the teams split the two games, with Xavier winning last season 64-47.

Only one player remains from the brawl - Cincinnati forward Octavius Ellis, who was suspended for six games. For most players on both teams, it's the first time they've played the rivalry game on a campus.

For many, it's their first such game at all.

''We have six new guys,'' Cincinnati associate head coach Larry Davis said on Tuesday. ''You address it because of the fact you've got guys that have never been in this game before. You've heard about it, but you don't quite know what it means.''

Freshman Trevon Bluiett, who leads Xavier with 12.5 points per game, is eager to finally experience it.

''I've been hearing about it since I stepped on campus over the summer,'' Bluiett said. ''People have been talking about this game. Even though we're supposed to take it like just another game, basically it's not.''

The roster turnover has helped erase the raw feelings from three years ago, turning the game back into more of a friendly rivalry.

''It's very cool,'' Xavier senior center Matt Stainbrook said. ''It's something that gets the attention of the whole city. To divide a city in two different sides and make them have to choose a side, it's fun.''

Xavier has won five of the last seven and 10 of the last 15 in the rivalry. Both teams are struggling heading into their rematch, with Xavier (16-10) losing three of its last five and Cincinnati (17-8) dropping two straight.

This one is as much about boosting their NCAA tournament bids as it is about winning city bragging rights.

''We need a spark,'' Cincinnati guard Kevin Johnson said. ''There would be nothing better than to get a win and get a spark by beating Xavier.''

One element is still missing from the rivalry. Cincinnati's Mick Cronin hasn't coached a game since December because of a problem with a blood vessel in the back of his head that's being treated with medication.

He'll be at the pregame practice on Wednesday, then go home to watch on television while Davis leads the Bearcats. It'll be the 17th game that Cronin has missed.

Xavier coach Chris Mack has talked to Cronin during his tough few months away from games. He texted him a quote from former Xavier coach Skip Prosser who liked to say that coaching was great except for the games.

''I said somehow you've managed to get coach Prosser's dream job, being a head coach and not coaching any games,'' Mack joked.

The Bearcats expect their first capacity crowd at their 13,176-seat arena on Wednesday when the rivalry returns home.

''I think it's good that it's back on college campuses,'' Davis said. ''That's where it belongs. It's better for the students, it's better for the atmosphere, all of that.''


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