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Billikens look to wrap up rare conference title

Billikens look to wrap up rare conference title

March 9th, 2013 in News

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 this afternoon 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 today 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."