Butler-Saint Louis Preview

The Associated Press

A steady demeanor has aided Saint Louis in its history-making season, which includes two high-profile wins over Atlantic 10 newcomer Butler.

The 16th-ranked Billikens will try to top the Bulldogs again and advance to a conference tournament championship for the first time in 13 years Saturday.

Saint Louis (25-6) was hardly rattled by a 37.5-percent shooting performance in its tournament opener Friday against Charlotte. Dwayne Evans led the way with a career-high 25 points on 8-of-9 shooting, making all nine free throws and grabbing nine rebounds.

The top-seeded Billikens held the 49ers to 38.8 percent shooting and forced 20 turnovers in a 72-55 victory, their 13th in 14 games.

"Everything has kind of peaked with us. They don't get real excited. They don't get real down. They just kind of keep plugging away," interim coach Jim Crews said. "That's a great trait that they have."

The Billikens also weren't fazed in two matchups with ranked Butler squads earlier this season.

They erased a five-point halftime deficit and took the lead for good with a 19-7 run to open the second half in a 65-61 road victory over the then-No. 15 Bulldogs on Feb. 22. Mike McCall Jr. had a team-best 18 points, Kwamain Mitchell scored 10 of his 12 in the second half and Evans added 17 - part of his current 14-game streak of double-digit scoring performances.

Saint Louis had an easier time Jan. 31 in a 75-58 home win over the ninth-ranked Bulldogs, leading by double digits throughout the second half. Jordair Jett matched a career high with 19 points in 23 minutes off the bench, and Evans had 15 on 6-of-8 shooting.

"There's a reason they've beaten us twice, and we're going to have to play better than we did each of the first two times," Butler coach Brad Stevens said. "I think Saint Louis is one of the best teams in the country. I don't care where they're ranked or where they'll be seeded. Somebody who hasn't played against them next week, they're going to say uh-oh."

Saint Louis claimed its first regular-season league title since 1970-71 and its first outright crown since 1956-57, both coming in the Missouri Valley. The Billikens claimed their only tournament championship as part of Conference USA in 2000, also the last time they reached a league title game.

Butler, meanwhile, finished in a tie for third and got the No. 5 seed for this tournament in what could be its only season in the A-10. The Bulldogs are rumored to be ready to join Dayton and seven schools that broke away from the Big East in a new conference.

If they are leaving, they'll try to exit with their fourth league tournament title in six years. The Bulldogs (26-7) will have to win four games in four days to take this championship and moved a step closer by topping La Salle 69-58 on Friday, their fourth straight victory.

Rotnei Clarke had 14 points to lead five players in double figures. The senior scored 21 in each of the previous two games, including a 73-67 win over Dayton in Thursday's tournament opener as he tied a season high with six 3-pointers.

The Billikens lead the series 18-11 and have won three straight meetings.