How do you measure a rivalry? Is it in the media coverage or the distance between the schools? Is it in whether it has a clever name or whether Stuart Scott used to rave about it? Is it measured in references in pop culture, whether most of the staff of ESPN’s college basketball crew went to one of the schools, or how often the teams meet? I’d posit its none of the these. The way to measure a true rivalry is whether a fight might break out at any moment.
Watch coverage of any rivalry and you’ll get positive platitudes about the opponent, see pregame handshakes, and hear the announcers mention how much the programs respect each other. That won’t happen come this Saturday when Xavier meets Cincinnati in the Crosstown Shootout. The Shootout isn’t a rivalry like Duke-UNC or Ohio State-Michigan, it’s a rivalry where the teams hate each other and physical violence. Ten years ago, it did.
Saturday, December 10th of 2011 dawned bright and clear. By game time it was a typical Ohio December day. The air was crisp in the low 30s, but not bitter, the sun was shining, and the biggest rivalry in college basketball was about to tip. Indiana play Kentucky, Kansas played Ohio St, and Michigan St played Gonzaga all on the same day. By the end of the evening, no one would remember those games.
The Shootout has always been heated, but in the years leading up to the 2011 game it had become even more so. In 2008 in a game that the AP called “the roughest one of them all” Xavier won but Derrick Brown was ejected and Kenny Frease and Yancy Gates were both given technicals for a fight. 2009 and 2010 both saw more technicals and benches engage with players on the court. The stage was set for something major.
In the run up to the 2011 Shootout Sean Kilpatrick did an interview in which he said that Tu Holloway wouldn’t start for UC “with the players we have now.” Cincinnati did have a good team that year, but the idea that Cashmere Wright or Dion Dixon was at the level of Tu Holloway was absurd. Holloway, as was his wont, took that very personally.
Less than five minutes into the game, the vitriol started. Kilpatrick was fouled (kind of) by Andre Walker and went to the line. As he stepped up, he was greeted by the chant of “who’s Kilpatrick?” Kilpatrick finished the game 3-12 from the floor. While Holloway remained quiet, his backcourt mate Mark Lyons did not. Lyons, the self styled King of Upstate, was a constant stream of trash talk. His coach, Chris Mack, picked up a first half technical and noted idiot Mick Cronin was his usual bombastically whiny self.
Xavier went on a 17-2 run that spanned half time and ended the game as a real contest. Tu warmed to the game and ran it from the point. While Wright and Dixon combined to go 5-24, Holloway was 5-10 and went for 17/6/2. With ten seconds left, he finally opened his mouth.
“I was just saying it’s my city right here. I’m cut from a different cloth. None of them guys on that team is like me, so I don’t understand. I felt disrespected for them guys to come at me and talk like that, so I let the whole staff over there and let their players know that none of them is like me.” No one was like Tu, but his soliloquy to the UC bench was not well received. After more jawing, Holloway and Bearcat scrub Ge’Lawn Guyn squared up, Dez Wells leveled Guyn, and off we went.
Our coverage of the fight was pretty comprehensive and will be linked below. Ultimately, though, it wasn’t that the benches cleared or that some people used their potty words, it was the intensity of the fight that caught national attention. This was not the usual milling around jawing kind of altercation, it was a fight being conducted by guys who knew how to scrap. Lyons pointed out that where comes from you don’t back down from a bully. Tu said that Xavier’s players were “grown men” who “zipped them up.”
Zip Em Up has lingered in the Xavier lexicon and become so commonplace that transfers to the program do it after wins now. The Fight led to the game being renamed for a year, “reflection sessions,” and Mick Cronin somehow being even more of a bloviating fool. The rivalry hasn’t spilled into violence since, but it lingers just beneath the surface every time the teams meet.
True rivalry isn’t mutual respect and post game back slapping. It isn’t Tobacco Road or the The Game or anything else sustained mostly by a media narrative and a need to drive storylines. The Crosstown Shootout is a rivalry maintained and sustained by genuine antipathy. Violence waits on Saturday, whether it spills over again like it did 10 years ago will be the question on everyone’s mind when the opening tip goes up.