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Cincinnati guard anxious to make amends



Published: Wed, February 9, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Nick Williams has lived with his mistake for a year.

CINCINNATI (AP) -- The capacity crowd of 10,250 was on its feet at Xavier's arena, basking in the prospect of yet another remarkable crosstown upset.

Cincinnati Bearcats guard Nick Williams dribbled wide-eyed at the top of the 3-point arc as the crowd roared and the seconds ticked down, looking for a way to get the ball inside to Jason Maxiell for the last shot. He was covered too tightly to even try it.

Williams stopped dribbling and surveyed his other options. One of the nation's biggest basketball rivalries was now entirely in his hands.

He saw forward Armein Kirkland open on the other side of the court and made a frantic pass that had way too much on it. The 6-foot-8 Kirkland watched helplessly as the ball flew over his outstretched fingers and landed right on the courtside media table -- and right in basketball lore.

"I don't like to talk about it, I don't like to think about it," said Williams, who gets another chance to play Xavier on Thursday. "Just like everybody else, I have other things in my life that are positive as well, so I don't dwell on that."

At this time of year, it's difficult not too.

A big deal in the city

The annual grudge match between the big public university and the small Jesuit school stirs passion in every part of the city. It's become an even bigger deal in the last few years, with Xavier winning six of the last eight games -- two of them when Cincinnati was ranked No. 1 nationally.

The most lasting moment in the series -- one that still pains Bearcats fans -- came on Nov. 26, 1996, when Cincinnati point guard Charles Williams dribbled the ball off his leg and out of bounds with 5.4 seconds left and the score tied. Xavier's Lenny Brown hit a floating jumper at the buzzer for a 71-69 victory over the top-ranked Bearcats, leaving Cincinnati's arena in a stunned silence.

Nick Williams' pass ranks right below Williams' dribble.

The 10th-ranked Bearcats trailed by a point but had the ball in the closing seconds. Williams' errant pass forced Cincinnati to foul, and Xavier came away with a 71-69 win.

Williams has lived with the moment for a year.

"Of course, people bring it up all the time," Williams said. "As a basketball player and especially at a high-profile school, you've got to be strong enough to take the positive with the negative and move on."

His teammates blame themselves for blowing a double-digit lead and letting the game come down to one pass.

"We got ourselves in a bind at the end of the game," Kirkland said. "It should have never happened. You can't blame one play, because we were winning and we let them come back."

Advantage to Bearcats

The rematch on Thursday will be played on Cincinnati's court, providing yet another advantage to the heavily favored Bearcats. Xavier (11-8) has lost three post players to injury, including top rebounder and scorer Brian Thornton, who is hobbled by tendinitis in his left leg. Plus, the Musketeers are a young team -- a freshman and two sophomores start in a lineup that has no seniors.

That puts all the pressure on the 21st-ranked Bearcats (17-5), who have lost their last two home games against Xavier.

"It's bragging rights," forward Eric Hicks said. "You see people, and that's the only game they really want you to win. Of course they want you to do good (the entire season), but it's a very important game for UC fans."

No one gives it more importance than Williams, a senior who won't get another chance to make up for his gaffe.

"This is my last chance to play Xavier," he said. "With my turnover at the end of the game last year such a crucial play in the game, I really feel determined to play as hard as I can and do everything I can to help my team win."




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