Down 10 points to Xavier at halftime Tuesday night in a game that could have a big impact on its NCAA Tournament hopes, Saint Louis University didn't talk about offense in the locker room. The Billikens' sole focus was defense.
"I don't think one thing was mentioned about offense," guard Kyle Cassity said after SLU's 70-59 win over Xavier at Chaifetz Arena. "Defense was what got us where we were, and that's what we talked about. That's what won the game for us."
It's what will make SLU a dangerous team in the Atlantic 10 tournament next week and in the NCAA Tournament that follows, a reward that looks much more likely for SLU (23-6, 11-4) after the Billikens completely turned the tables on the Musketeers.
SLU held Xavier to just 20 points in the second half. After shooting 51.9 percent from the field in the first half, Xavier shot just 28.0 percent in the second half and looked decidedly rattled as the half wore on.
"In the first half, (we) were tentative offensively," SLU coach Rick Majerus said, "and (we) don't understand that your defense drives your offense, so we had a bit of complacency defensively. I don't know what we thought. But it's why you keep score for a whole game. We fought back."
SLU was coming off a subpar effort at Rhode Island on Feb. 25 that had thrown a wrench into what looked like a pretty good shot at an NCAA bid. The win over Xavier, the second of the season for SLU, should move the Billikens back on the safe side of the tournament bubble. SLU had snapped the Musketeers' 43-game home conference winning streak earlier this season. The victory in the rematch reminded everyone that SLU's defense is a force to deal with.
"It was defense all the way," forward Brian Conklin said.
ON THE SPOT: Guard Kyle Cassity lost his starting spot at the start of February to sophomore Mike McCall, who was providing more offense. SLU coach Rick Majerus offered Cassity a start on Senior Night, but Cassity turned him down. Cassity told Majerus that it was more important to win, and he didn't want to upset the flow of the nine-man rotation Majerus has developed during the season. "You don't want to change what's working," Cassity said. "We won. That's all I wanted to do."
THIS WEEK'S GAMES
--at Duquesne, March 3
KEY MATCHUPS: The Billikens romped 68-41 when the two teams played in Saint Louis on Jan. 21. G Eric Evans (12 points) was the only player in double figures for the Dukes, and GF B.J. Monteiro was still hampered by a hand injury sustained in an off-campus incident on New Year's Eve. He scored only six points.
FUTURES MARKET: Saint Louis is looking for its first piece of a league championship since 1971, when the Billikens won the Missouri Valley title.
--Senior F Brian Conklin knew he wasn't going to lose in the final home game of his college career. Conklin had 15 of his 23 points in the second half against Xavier, and he played the full 20 minutes. He and senior G Kyle Cassity got standing ovations at the end of the game.
--Sophomore G Mike McCall scored 10 points against Xavier, which isn't surprising, but what was unusual was that he grabbed a career-high seven rebounds. He added four assists and two steals. McCall also hit two technical foul free throws. He hasn't missed a shot at the line in the past five games, going 9-for-9 in that span.