ATLANTA - In the 104 days that have passed since the ugliest moment of the college basketball season, Xavier senior point guard Tu Holloway insists he's learned a thing or two following the Musketeers' brawl with city rival Cincinnati.
"That game made me realize how many kids I was a role model to at home," Holloway said Thursday during the NCAA South Regional news conference for tonight's Sweet 16 game against Baylor.
"Sometimes we take playing on ESPN or playing on big-time TV networks for granted."
For those with short memories, Xavier was in the final seconds of putting a 76-53 whipping on the visiting Bearcats on Dec. 10, when a bench-clearing brawl broke out and Cincy's Yancy Gates bloodied the face of Xavier center Kenny Frease.
Numerous suspensions were handed out on both sides, including Holloway's one-game suspension for, among other things, some inflammatory comments he made following the fight.
"We got disrespected a little bit before the game," said Holloway - who is averaging a team-high 17.4 points and 4.9 assists for the 23-12 Musketeers - that day. "We've got a whole bunch of gangsters in the locker room - not thugs, but tough guys on the court. We went out there and zipped them up at the end of the game. That's our motto: We zip them up."
But the incident zipped up Xavier's mojo. Put it in moth balls for more than three weeks. At 8-0 following that win over Cincy, the Musketeers lost five of their next six games. Then they lost six of 11 from Jan. 21 to Feb. 28 to fall to 18-11 and seriously jeopardize their NCAA tournament bid.
"We made it harder on ourselves than we needed to," Frease, who scored a career-high 25 points and hauled down 12 rebounds in Sunday's third-round win over Lehigh, said earlier this season in a Fox interview.
"This team came into the season with a lot of expectations and possibly got crushed by those expectations."
Added Holloway: "That's what we signed up for. Nobody ever told us this would be easy. We're still, quote, a mid-major. But we're ready for the challenge."
The challenge against Baylor is daunting. The Bears haven't gone 29-7 and earned a No. 3 seed in the South Regional for no reason. The front line of Quincy Miller, Perry Jones III and Quincy Acy stands 6-foot-9, 6-11 and 6-7, respectively. Guard Brady Heslip hit nine 3-pointers to score 27 points in Baylor's third-round rout (80-63) of Colorado.
And point guard Pierre Jackson may be the most complete player on the team with averages of 13.5 points and 5.8 assists.
"I went to camp with Pierre this summer out in Los Angeles," Holloway said. "I've watched Baylor a lot this year, and he's the guy that really makes them go."
Jackson is similarly complimentary of Holloway, saying, "Tu's a great player. He knows how to score, knows how to get the team involved. He's just ... he's heartless."
Given the events at the close of the Cincinnati game, Holloway might like that last observation back.
"We've been through a lot this year," he said. "But the things we've been through are going to help us all out as people later in life."