VCU-Saint Louis Preview

The Associated PressMarch 17, 2013

Following perhaps his best two games of the season, Dwayne Evans has No. 16 Saint Louis on the verge of its first Atlantic 10 tournament title.

First, Evans and the Billikens will have to clear one more major hurdle in the 25th-ranked VCU Rams.

Top-seeded Saint Louis and second-seeded VCU vie for the A-10 championship and an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament in Brooklyn on Sunday.

After finishing with a career-high 25 points and nine rebounds in a win over Charlotte in the quarterfinals on Friday, Evans had 24 and 11, respectively, in a 67-56 victory over Butler on Saturday.

The junior forward has made 15 for 19 from the floor and 18 for 20 from the foul line in the tournament. Evans saved his best basketball for the end of the season, averaging 20.7 points and 11.7 rebounds in his last six contests.

"Some guys have a feel for where the bucket is,'' Saint Louis interim coach Jim Crews said of Evans. "It sounds stupid because that bucket doesn't move, but you've got to have a sense.''

Now Evans will try to keep the regular-season champs rolling in a rematch with the defensive-minded Rams. Evans had 14 points and eight rebounds as the Billikens (26-6) outscored VCU by 17 in the first half and cruised to a 76-62 home win on Feb. 19.

"We've just got to play better,'' VCU coach Shaka Smart said. "There's all kinds of strategic things that we'll talk over with our team. But the bottom line is Saint Louis was better than us in every aspect of the game on that night. Now we get another opportunity to play them on a neutral floor.''

Since that contest, VCU (26-7) has won five of six and advanced to the championship game in its inaugural A-10 season with a 71-62 victory over Massachusetts in the semifinals on Saturday.

Junior Bob Brandenberg had seven points and came through with a big 3-pointer to give the Rams a seven-point lead with 1:21 left.

Senior Troy Daniels made 6 of 9 from beyond the arc on the way to a game-high 20 points, while junior Juvonte Reddic added 18 and 12 rebounds for the Rams.

Reddic may be a factor again in the title game since he finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds in last month's loss at Saint Louis.

Leading scorer Treveon Graham looks to bounce back after tying his season low with three points on 1-of-12 shooting in the semis. Graham, though, had just 11 on 4-of-16 shooting in the first meeting with the Billikens.

Despite shooting 35.7 percent overall against the Minutemen, VCU continued its high efficiency from 3-point range with an 8-for-21 effort on Saturday.

The Rams have made 42 of 98 (42.9 percent) from beyond the arc over their last five contests, but may have a difficult time keeping up that pace against a Saint Louis defense that has limited opponents to 26.8 percent 3-point shooting in its last six.

The Billikens also forced 20 turnovers for the second straight game on Saturday and held the Bulldogs without a field goal for almost seven minutes midway through the second half.

VCU leads the nation in forced turnovers per game (19.9), but Saint Louis did a nice job taking care of the basketball in the first meeting with only eight - tied for the fewest all season against the Rams.