VCU-Xavier Preview

The Associated Press

Virginia Commonwealth took a big step back in its quest for the Atlantic 10 title earlier this week.

The Rams would appear to have another tough challenge with a visit to Xavier on Saturday.

No. 24 VCU tries to get back on track against the Musketeers, who put their five-game home winning streak on the line as these schools square off for the first time in six seasons.

The Rams (21-6, 9-3), in their first season in the A-10, had a five-game win streak snapped with a 76-62 loss at Saint Louis on Tuesday.

Juvonte Reddic had 19 points and 12 rebounds, but leading scorer Treveon Graham was limited to 11 on 4-of-16 shooting. VCU is 5-4 when Graham, averaging 15.6 points, scores 13 or fewer.

The Billikens shot 55.3 percent, the highest mark allowed by VCU all season, and knocked coach Shaka Smart's team out of first place.

The Rams are among a handful of teams competing for the regular-season conference crown.

"It's not like we're in a terrible position," Smart said. "Obviously, we wanted to win. ... But this is a league where you have to be able to endure tough nights and you have to be able to bounce back. There are so many good teams."

VCU will need to be wary of Xavier (15-10, 8-4), which has gone 9-2 at home. Those defeats came by a combined three points, with one going to overtime.

The Musketeers, who've played six of their last eight on the road, are coming off their third win in four games, 55-42 at Rhode Island on Wednesday. Xavier held a 45-29 edge on the glass and limited Rhode Island to 24.1 percent shooting, its lowest mark allowed since November 2005.

"It's a very big win, it's a road win so of course that's a good win," said senior Travis Taylor, who had a career-high 17 boards. "It's the last couple games of the stretch, especially in conference, so it's very important."

Freshman guard Semaj Christon, averaging team highs of 15.2 points and 4.4 assists, scored 16 to go along with a season best-tying seven rebounds. The Musketeers will surely be looking for Christon to get his teammates involved, as they are 9-3 when he has at least five assists.

"Semaj is stepping up to the plate. I would say he's very mature," Taylor said. "Coming on a team like this, especially at a program like Xavier - handling the ball, being in the spotlight - he's taking it head on. He's doing a very good job."

The Musketeers lost 60-45 to then-No. 11 Cincinnati on Dec. 19 in their only matchup against a ranked opponent. While Xavier has won three straight and eight of 12 home games against Top 25 foes, its last such victory came 78-76 over then-No. 23 Richmond in double overtime Feb. 28, 2010.

Xavier dropped the first two meetings in this series before pulling out a 70-67 victory at the Paradise Jam in 2006-07.

The Rams haven't dropped two in a row on the road since a four-game slide Dec. 1, 2010-Jan. 3, 2011. They're 24-7 in true road games since that skid.