Originally posted on Fox Sports Midwest  |  Last updated 2/4/12
ST. LOUIS In a chaotic year where six teams are within a game of the Atlantic 10 Conference lead and upsets seem to happen on a nightly basis, the Saint Louis Billikens are saying one simple thing: why not us? The Billikens remained just a half-game behind first place Temple in the wacky A-10 race Saturday with a 58-50 win over the Dayton Flyers at Chaifetz Arena. With preseason favorite Xavier faltering and others taking turns looking like the team to beat, the Billikens appear set to take full advantage of the opportunity. "Ever since Oct. 15 or whenever we started practice, we've said this was going to be our league," said forward Brian Conklin, who led the Billikens Saturday with 16 points. "We definitely want a championship. We just have to keep taking it one game at a time." After losing 79-72 in overtime at Dayton on Jan. 4, the Billikens burst out of the gate Saturday and led by as many as 11 points in the first half. Dayton cut the lead to two early in the second half but Saint Louis pulled away down the stretch. Conklin added eight rebounds to his 16 points and Dwayne Evans added nine points and 10 rebounds for the Billikens, who held Dayton to just 24.6 percent from the field. The win was the fifth in six games for the surging Billikens, who improved to 18-5 overall and 6-3 in conference play. Dayton continues to be a disappointment, dropping their fourth game in a row to fall to 14-9 and 4-5 in the conference. Expectations started to rise when Saint Louis opened the year 12-1 and was ranked for a week in the Associated Press poll for the first time since the 1993-1994 season. But they followed up the impressive start by losing three of four, including a 1-2 start in A-10 play, to make some wonder if they were going to squander what appeared like a golden opportunity to make the NCAA Tournament. Five wins and six games later, things appear quite a bit different. "We had a rough skid for a couple games there but I feel like were realizing that potential that we thought we had at the beginning of the season," said Evans. "We're halfway through the conference season now and we are in a pretty good spot to win the league and set us up for postseason play. "I like the way things are going and we just have to capitalize on the rest of the season." In an A-10 season crazier than some can remember, the Billikens have appeared to right the ship. With last place teams beating first place teams and eight teams holding at least a .500 record in the conference, Saint Louis looks to have as good a shot as any to win it. While winning the league would be nice, the Billikens are hoping to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2000, when they made a miracle run to win the Conference USA Tournament by winning four games in four days. The last NCAA at-large bid for Saint Louis came in 1998, when Larry Hughes led them to a 22-11 record and a victory over UMass in the first round. The Billikens have played in postseason play just three times since 2000, two trips to the NIT in 2003 and 2004 and an appearance in the CBI when they lost to VCU in the finals in 2010. Two wins away from just their third 20-win season in 14 years, the Billikens recognize what potentially lies ahead. And they look poised to capitalize on it. "I felt it was attainable since the beginning but now it's playing itself out, you definitely see that you're a half a game out," Conklin said. "Everybody follows the league, we come in and talk about wins from the night before and who is where, so we definitely know where we stand and we have to get this Philly trip." The Billikens will take a two-game road trip to Philadelphia this week to play at St. Josephs and La Salle.
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