- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 27, 2004

ATLANTA — Romain Sato stood near midcourt, holding up one finger and acknowledging the Xavier fans. It was a universal signal from a player who speaks six languages.

The Musketeers are in the regional finals of the NCAA tournament for the first time.

“Nobody thought we could get to this point,” Sato said. He scored 27 points and backcourt mate Lionel Chalmers added 14, helping the Musketeers beat Texas 79-71 in the semifinals of the Atlanta regional last night.

No. 7 seed Xavier (26-10) won for the 16th time in 17 games and advanced to tomorrow’s regional final against Duke, a 72-62 winner over Illinois in last night’s second game.

In the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 tournament, Xavier beat previously undefeated Saint Joseph’s 87-67. The Hawks beat Wake Forest on Thursday night to advance to the final of the East Rutherford regional. It’s the first time two A-10 teams have advanced to the round of eight.

“It’s great for the A-10 because we don’t get as much credit as we deserve,” Chalmers said. “It shows how strong we are, and it shows when we were in last place earlier in the year, that was the reason why.”

Dedrick Finn added 11 points for the Musketeers.

“Just for us to prove it on the court means everything,” Chalmers said.

Brandon Mouton had 21 before fouling out for the third-seeded Longhorns (25-8), who were trying to reach the Final Four for the second straight season. Brian Boddicker added 11, and P.J. Tucker finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds.

“We had a goal as freshmen to win a national championship,” said Mouton, one of four seniors who played prominent roles for Texas. “We pushed each other at practice every day to get better in order to reach that goal, but we came up short.

“I feel that Texas is going to be a great program for years to come.”

Texas coach Rick Barnes got two technicals from referee Ted Valentine with 3.9 seconds left and was thrown out of the game. Barnes stopped by the Xavier bench and shook hands with coach Thad Matta on his way to the locker room.

The last time the Musketeers reached the Sweet 16, in 1990, they lost to Texas 102-89.

“To get to this point, I think, means more for us than for a team like Duke, teams that are supposed to get there,” Chalmers said. “A team like us, it means a whole lot to have a chance to see how good we can be.”

Xavier used a 10-0 run late in the first half to take its first lead, then added nine straight points over a span of about four minutes after halftime to take control.

A 3-pointer by Boddicker cut the lead to 72-71 with 16.8 seconds left, the closest the Longhorns had been since a tie at 50-50.

Sato hit two free throws to put Xavier up three. Sydmill Harris then missed an off-balance 3-pointer with about 10 seconds left that would have tied it, and Finn was fouled. As Valentine walked to the scorer’s table to report the infraction, he was met by Barnes. About 15 seconds later, the coach was done for the night.

Sato made three of four shots at the line on the technicals, and Finn added two more to seal it.

“Right now, it is tough,” Boddicker said. “The toughest thing about it is that I am not going to be able to suit up with these guys anymore.”

The late-season run by Xavier started with a 71-69 victory over crosstown rival Cincinnati, and it was spoiled only by a loss to lowly Duquesne.

In the A-10 tournament, the Musketeers won four games in four days — including that rout of Saint Joe’s — and then beat Louisville and Mississippi State to reach the round of 16.

“I think teams take time to mature, and this team, obviously, it took us some time to understand the roles that we were going to have,” Matta said. “We still screw stuff up.”

As was the case all season, Sato and Chalmers led the way in this one. Both played the entire 40 minutes, and Sato made 14 of 17 free throws. Chalmers bounced back from a rough half (2-for-7, six points) and added seven rebounds and six assists.

“This is my last year — any game could be my last one,” Sato said.

Mouton ended another sensational tournament. Last year he averaged 17.8 points as Texas reached the Final Four, including 25 in a semifinal loss to eventual champ Syracuse.

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