- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 20, 2012

CINCINNATI — Punches flew. Blood dripped on the court. Two proud basketball programs saw their reputations stained in mere seconds last December, when Cincinnati and Xavier players lost their cool at the end of their game.

The moment would follow them everywhere for the next three months. The video was played countless times. The questions kept coming.

Finally, that’s changing. By reaching the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament together, the crosstown rivals have finally gotten beyond the brawl.

“It’s a good thing both teams are doing well now,” Xavier point guard Tu Holloway said Tuesday.

Far better than anyone expected three months ago, when four players from each team were suspended for the melee at the end of Xavier’s 23-point win on its home court Dec. 10. It became a national talking point and a turning point for both teams.

Both teams have gotten past the fallout and made it deep into tournament time. Cincinnati (26-10) plays Ohio State (29-7) in Boston on Thursday in a regional semifinal. Xavier (23-12) plays Baylor (29-7) in Atlanta on Friday.

The only time they think about the fight now is when it invariably comes up during interviews before NCAA tournament games. They don’t mind the question as much as the implication in some of them.

“After a win, they try to make it out as if we didn’t have that fight, we wouldn’t be where we are now, that the reason we’re playing so good is because of that,” Cincinnati power forward Yancy Gates said on Tuesday

Fair or not, the fight became the lens through which the rest of their seasons would be viewed.

Xavier was 8-0 and ranked No. 8 when Holloway, guard Mark Lyons and forward Dez Wells were among those suspended, costing the Musketeers their top three scorers and knocking everything out of sorts. They lost five of their next six games and had a tough time regaining their confidence and chemistry.

Plus, they seemed to be affected by the national attention, losing the toughness that Holloway and Lyons had bragged about after the Cincinnati game.

For the first time in six years, the Musketeers failed to win at least a share of the Atlantic 10 regular-season title. When they got to the A-10 tournament, they knew they had to win some games to keep playing.

Xavier reached the A-10 final in Atlantic City, then knocked off Notre Dame and Lehigh in the NCAA tournament to reach the round of 16 for the fourth time in five years.