Saint Louis aims for first title in 40-plus years
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ST. LOUIS (AP) - The swatch of blue hair and Batman stud earrings call attention to Saint Louis sixth man and free spirit Cody Ellis, the Australian import who's also the team's top 3-point threat.
A return to form in the regular-season finale Saturday for Ellis greatly increases the odds for a school that's one win away from its first conference title in more than 40 years.
Ellis was 0 for 15 in an overtime loss Wednesday at Xavier, 11 of the misses from 3-point range. And with his parents right behind the bench after making the arduous, 40-hour globe-hopping trip to see the 6-foot-8 senior off in style, too.
"I'm just going to try to get it out of my head,'' Ellis said. "Probably next game, the law of averages says I should knock a couple down, eh?''
Ellis has made three or more 3-pointers nine times this season, including six at Fordham to tie his career best. He leads the team with 52 3-pointers and reasoned, "I've just got to stay confident.''
Interim coach Jim Crews' advice at Xavier was simple: Fire away.
"I told him probably three times in the game to keep shooting,'' Crews said. "You're not going to pinch-hit for Pujols or Mantle or Musial or someone who's good, are you? If he's open, I want him shooting it.''
Crews has kept the program built by the late Rick Majerus humming with the 16th-ranked Billikens (23-6, 12-3 Atlantic 10) tied for first place in the conference heading into the finale against La Salle (21-7, 11-4), which also has a title shot.
Saint Louis last earned at least a share of a conference regular season title in 1970-71, in the Missouri Valley. The last outright title was in 1956-57.
To accomplish that, the Billikens need a win coupled with a VCU loss against Temple.
Crews won four conference championships at Indiana as a player, including the Hoosiers' unbeaten season in 1976, but coaching has been a reality check. In 24 years at Evansville and Army, he produced four NCAA tournament teams.
"I'd say the majority of players go through college without a championship,'' Crews said. "This league has 16 teams and that body of work, you've got to earn it.''
The opponent is no pushover. La Salle, which has won seven of eight, needs a win on Saturday and a VCU loss against Temple to take the championship.
La Salle has beaten two Top 25 teams and is 2-0 at Saint Louis' Chaifetz Center.
"It's a big game for La Salle, it's a big game for us,'' Crews said. "It would really be neat and cool for these kids, all the things they've been through, to win a championship.''
That Saint Louis is NCAA tournament-bound for the second straight season after ending a 12-year drought last year is a given.
"When I first got here we were on the bottom of the league,'' senior reserve forward Cory Remekun said. "Now we're fighting for a championship. It's crazy to see how much we've improved.''
The Xavier loss ended an 11-game winning streak for Saint Louis, which has had a season of high notes with one of the stingiest defenses in the country and a balanced attack with six players averaging seven or more points.
"Some of the guys I've played with have gone through a lot,'' said senior guard Kwamain Mitchell, who was suspended for a semester in 2010 and returned as a calming presence on the court. "I appreciate the opportunity to be a part of it and I'm going to leave everything on the court.''
The three seniors plus Femi John, who had a career-ending knee injury a few seasons ago, will be honored after the game.
"It is emotional, should be emotional,'' Crews said. "Personally, I've always had a hard time with senior day. It's hard on the coaches, too.''
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