If the CBE Classic was structured differently, and only winning teams advanced out of early-round games, Saint Louis University wouldn’t have played at Sprint Center on Monday.
By BLAIR KERKHOFF
The Kansas City Star
And the Billikens wouldn’t have had an opportunity to look this impressive
The team that fell to Santa Clara last week could hardly have been sharper than in the 70-49 victory over Texas A&M in the semifinal game.
Saint Louis will play Kansas or Washington State for the championship today at 8:30 p.m.
The Billikens had plenty going for it, including a return to the lineup of forward Cory Remekun, who had missed the first two games with a knee injury.
Remekun was terrific in his debut with 12 points on five of six shooting, but mostly working in Saint Louis’ favor was its previous effort, a 12-point home loss to Santa Clara.
“It was tough to watch,” Remekun said.
“We’d rather have gone to a movie, right Cory,” quipped Coach Jim Crews.
The defeat prompted a team meeting the following day and a more intense focus from a team that returned most of its roster from a 26-victory squad that reached the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
These Billikens were picked to finish second in the Atlantic-10, a shade behind St. Joseph’s, and had come up a few votes short of appearing in the preseason top 25 polls.
After the Santa Clara loss, Crews told his guys to develop a short memory.
“He talked a lot about outside noise,” said forward Dwayne Evans, who scored 19 of his 21 in the second half. “And we couldn’t let one night spoil the rest of the season.”
The Billikens have dealt with adversity throughout the preseason. Crews was named the interim head coach in August when the school announced Rick Majerus was taking a medical leave for a heart condition. Last week, Saint Louis announced Crews would be the coach throughout the season.
Also, senior guard Kwamain Mitchell, a preseason all-conference choice, is out with a broken foot.
“We’ve had more than our share of tough situations,” Crews said.
No better response than a game like Monday. Saint Louis was the aggressor from the outset, especially on defense and 10 minutes into the game the Billikens had turned five Texas A&M turnovers into 11 points.
One of those transition baskets was a Cody Ellis slam for a 17-7 lead with 11:17 remaining in the first half for the Billikens’ first double digit lead. It was part of sequence that saw the Aggies turn it over on four straight possessions, and Saint Louis cashing each time.
“They were just being physical and we weren’t making good decisions,” said Texas A&M guard Elston Turner. “We were making too many non-basketball plays.”
Like Saint Louis in its previous game.