Originally posted on Fox Sports Midwest  |  Last updated 1/12/12
ST. LOUIS -- The Saint Louis Billikens fueled talk of an NCAA Tournament appearance by starting the year 11-1, winning the 76 Classic in Anaheim and beating familiar names including Washington, Boston College, Villanova and Oklahoma. But if the Billikens have aspirations of making the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2000, losses like Wednesday's 72-67 home loss to Temple can't happen. Saint Louis has now lost three of four games following it's 11-1 start and has gone from being a near lock to make the big dance to a team squarely on the bubble. "Every game is crucial and we definitely let this one slip away," said forward Brian Conklin, who finished with 12 points and six rebounds. "We need to get back to the team that we were and the team we've been." Wednesday's nationally televised game against Temple was the first sellout of the year at Chaifetz Arena. Facing just their second top-25 RPI team, the Billikens had a chance to add a nice win on their tournament resume. And Saint Louis had plenty of chances to win. They led 21-16 with 5:45 left in the first half but trailed 32-30 at the break. Temple opened up a 51-42 lead midway through the second half but the Billikens fought back and trailed just 57-56 with 4:20 left in the game. Twice in the final five minutes the Billikens cut the deficit to one but both times they gave up three-point plays that extended the Temple lead back to four. For a team whose best RPI win was over 75th-ranked Oklahoma back in November, the Billikens had a golden opportunity to beat a top-25 RPI team in Temple that could have been huge come Selection Sunday. But like last week's game at Dayton, the Billikens couldn't close down the stretch and again couldn't capitalize on what would have been a big win. "It's a tough loss," said guard Kwamain Mitchell. "It hurts. But like our coach said, we have to move on. Our games keep coming (quickly) and we can't fall back and feel sorry for ourselves. We have to move on. We got Charlotte away on Saturday and we have to look at film and learn from our mistakes." The Billikens have plenty of talent, there's no denying that. But for a team wanting to take that next step and compete for the Atlantic 10 Championship or reach the postseason, they've got to beat bubble teams like Temple - especially at home. Saint Louis lost 64-60 at New Mexico (63rd in RPI) on Dec. 31 and 79-72 in overtime at Dayton (16th in RPI) on January 4 in back-to-back games. Both were winnable but both seemed to slip away down the stretch. After a bounce-back win against George Washington, the Billikens were hoping to keep the momentum going against Temple. And with the Owls ranked 23rd in the RPI according to realtimeRPI.com, the Billikens again faltered down the stretch when given a chance to earn a big-time win. "Big picture is 10 o'clock tomorrow morning when we come in here to look at film, and then practice at 11," said coach Rick Majerus. "(The schedule) is a very unforgiving pace, but we've got to straighten out some situations." The Billikens have lost three of their last four games and not coincidentally, they were to the top three teams RPI-wise they've played all season. With just two wins against teams in the RPI top-100, the Billikens have been feasting on weak competition for much of the year. Seven of their wins have come against teams ranked 200th or worse in the RPI and 11 of their 13 wins have come against teams ranked worse than 114th. Simply put, the BIllikens are entering a defining portion of their season. If they want to compete for the Atlantic 10 title andor return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 12 years, they must get back on the winning track. After missing on their last three chances for marquee wins, the Billikens still have two games left with Xavier (49th in RPI), a home game with Dayton (16th) and road games left with top-100 RPI teams Charlotte, Massachusetts, St. Joseph's and La Salle. Plenty of chances remain for the BIllikens to prove their tournament worth. And Saturday's road test at Charlotte would be a perfect time to start. "In every loss so far it seems like a lot of the same stuff," Conklin said. "It's stuff that we've reiterated after every loss which is the frustrating part. Something is going to have to change real soon "We need to look ourselves in the mirror and figure out if were going to be a tougher team or not."
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