Billikens Prepare For A-10 Tournament

The Billiken mascot (Don Adams Jr. photo)

The Saint Louis University basketball team goes into the Atlantic 10 tournament this week thinking that anything could happen.

Why not? After all, the conference coaches picked the Billikens to finish 12th in the preseason but they will go into the tourney with a No. 4 seed and a bye into the quarterfinals.

Saint Louis finished the regular season 20-10, 11-5 in the Atlantic 10. The Billikens also did so with no seniors or juniors on the active roster, making them the youngest team in the nation.

"We're 11-5, we're the youngest in the country and the last two weeks we're playing for first," Saint Louis coach Rick Majerus said. "If we win those other two games (against Xavier and Temple), which were winnable, we're in first or tied for first."

Instead, Xavier and Temple shared the regular-season conference title but no one can deny that Saint Louis has exceeded expectations. Now the Billikens will try to continue their ride Friday afternoon when it faces the winner of Tuesday night's first-round between Rhode Island and St. Joseph's.

A win in the quarterfinals would give the Billikens a rematch with Temple, presuming the Owls beat St. Bonaventure or Duquesne in the quarterfinals. The visiting Owls won 57-51 at St. Louis on March 3.

NOTES, QUOTES

- Saint Louis led the Atlantic 10 in three-point field goal defense (27.1) during the regular season but was last in scoring offense (63.8).

- Saint Louis finished the regular season with four straight conference road wins, the first time the Billikens had accomplished that feat since 1959.

ON THE SPOT:

F Brian Conklin has struggled offensively since being dropped from the starting lineup in mid-January. He came off the bench in the last 13 regular-season games and averaged just 4.5 points. 

QUOTE TO NOTE:

"We surprised a lot of people. The only people who probably believed in us were us. We just have to keep going. It doesn't stop here." - G Kyle Cassity on approaching the Atlantic 10 tournament as the fourth seed after being picked to finish 12th in the 14-team league by the conference coaches in their pre-season poll.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

SEASON RECAP:

Saint Louis won its first four, lost its next three then won eight of its next 13 before a six-game winning streak pushed the Billikens' record 18-8. They split their last four games to finish 20-10 in the regular season. G Kwamain Mitchell is averaging 16.1 points, F Willie Reed is averaging 11.8 points and 8.0 rebounds and F Cody Ellis has a 10.9 scoring average.

PLAYER ROTATION:

Usual starters -- F Cody Ellis, F Willie Reid, G Kyle Cassity, G Kwamain Mitchell, G Christian Salecich. Key reserves -- G Justin Jordan, F Brian Conklin, F Cory Remekun, F Jon Smith.

GAME REVIEW:

Saint Louis 69, Duquesne 59
Temple 57, Saint Louis 51
Saint Louis 71, Dayton 66

GAME PREVIEW:

vs. Rhode Island or St. Joseph's, Friday, March 12, Atlantic 10 tournament, quarterfinals

IN FOCUS:

Saint Louis beat Rhode Island 62-57 at home on Feb. 17. Mitchell led Saint Louis with 13 points, Cassity had 11 points and five assists and Reed and Salecich added 10 points each. Rhode Island was paced by Akeem Richmond's 18 points.

Saint Louis has won four straight games against St. Joseph's, including 56-52 on the road on Feb. 9. Ellis led Saint Louis with 13 points and Salecich added 11. St. Joseph's was topped by Garrett Williamson's 13 points while Todd O'Brien had 12 points and 10 rebounds and Idris Hilliard added 10 points.

ROSTER REPORT:

- G Kwamain Mithcell was a second-team choice on the all-Atlantic 10 team. The sophomore averaged 16.1 points and 3.1 rebounds a game.

- F Cody Ellis was chosen to the Atlantic 10's all-rookie team. He averaged 11.6 points and 4.9 rebounds despite sitting out St. Louis' first 14 games while waiting to be ruled eligible by the NCAA.

- F Willie Reed was third in the Atlantic 10 in blocked shots in the regular season with an average of 2.1 a game.

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