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Xavier's Burrell steps up with shutdown defense

Stanley Burrell has willingly sacrificed scoring to concentrate on defending opponents’ top shooters with unusual ferocity.

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Stanley Burrell has willingly sacrificed scoring to concentrate on defending opponents’ top shooters with unusual ferocity.

The scouting report on Xavier guard Stanley Burrell used to begin and end with his offensive skills.

But this year, he got defensive about that.

"As my career has gone on, I wanted to develop into more of a complete player, not just be a guy who takes jump shots and hoping I have a hot night," he said recently. "I want to do more things to help the team."

As a senior, that has meant he's locked down opponents, not only establishing himself as the Atlantic 10 Conference's staunchest defender and one of the best nationally, but infusing his teammates with a similar ferocity that has carried the Musketeers to the Sweet 16.

The No. 3-seeded Musketeers (29-6) play No. 7-seeded West Virginia (26-10) tonight in Phoenix in the West Region semifinals. The winner meets either No. 1 UCLA or surprising No. 12 Western Kentucky, which advanced out of Tampa, on Saturday.

"His effort and his tenacity on defense have really spread throughout the rest of our team," Xavier coach Sean Miller said of Burrell. "It's difficult to have one player give so much of himself on that end of the court and be surrounded by players who aren't giving that same effort. His effort has been contagious."

Xavier leads the A-10 in field-goal percent defense (40.6 percentage) and is second in scoring defense (62.7 points). That begins with Burrell.

Consider some of his defensive assignments: Tennessee's Chris Lofton (nine points, 3 of 12 shooting); Virginia's Sean Singletary (14 points, 5 of 12); Indiana's Eric Gordon (20 points, 4 of 12); and Dayton's Brian Roberts (20 points, 6 of 20 in two games).

Only Gordon came close to his season average, and the only loss was to Tennessee.

"It's obvious when you watch him play, he plays to win. You wish everybody did that," Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli said.

Last week, Burrell shut down Georgia's Sundiata Gaines (13 points on 6 of 14), who conceded that he lost a bit of composure and made "some uncharacteristic plays" as Xavier rallied from an 11-point second half deficit in the first-round matchup. Then he contained Purdue's E'Twaun Moore (15 points, 7 of 18).

"The one thing that stands out most with him, he's got a very good competitive edge," Purdue coach Matt Painter said.

It's just that you used to see that only on the offensive end.

Burrell, a 6-foot-3, 210-pounder from Indianapolis — who says he would have loved to attend Indiana or Purdue — came to the small school in Cincinnati as a shooter. He led the Musketeers in scoring as a freshman and sophomore and was second last year.

With a group of proven scorers (senior forward Josh Duncan, senior point guard Drew Lavender, sophomore forward Derrick Brown and junior forward C.J. Anderson all average double figures), Miller needed Burrell to do more … at the other end of the floor.

"Whatever it takes for my team to win," Burrell said simply, "I'm down for."

So, he sacrificed scoring (he's averaging a career-low 9.8 points, but has been in double figures in 19 games and is 12th on the school's all-time scoring list with 1,596 points) and free time to prepare for his defensive assignment — the top perimeter threat. He's not only quick, strong and savvy, but fearless. He's taken 10 charging fouls, tied for the team lead.

"I look forward to the challenge," he said. "Every single night, I want to be the main guy helping this team get stops. Offensively, I want to help out, too, make smart plays, but my main focus is I want to be the best defender."

Brian Landman can be reached at landman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3347.

Xavier's Burrell steps up with shutdown defense 03/26/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 26, 2008 10:13pm]

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