Wichita State is off to another unbeaten start. Maintaining it could be difficult as it heads into what figures to be an emotionally-charged atmosphere.
Saint Louis will be honoring former coach Rick Majerus on the one-year anniversary of his death in Sunday’s home matchup with the No. 12 Shockers.
Wichita State (7-0) captured the CBE Classic with Tuesday’s 75-62 win over BYU. Tournament MVP Ron Baker scored a career-high 23 points as the Shockers outscored the Cougars 41-26 after halftime.
Article continues below ...
“I feel like our team got tested the most in this game,” Baker said. “Being down at half is tough for some teams, and we like to pride ourselves in second halves.”
The Shockers weren’t tested much in their first road game, a 77-54 rout of Tulsa on Nov. 20. The Billikens should be tougher as winners of 19 of their last 20 at home.
Saint Louis (6-1) has four four-year players in its starting lineup. They were all recruited by Majerus, who passed away at the age of 64 last Dec. 1 at a Los Angeles hospital due to heart failure.
The Billikens were certainly fired up in their first game since his death. They beat Valparaiso 62-49 less than 24 hours later to trigger a nine-game win streak.
“Coach dedicated his life to basketball,” said forward Dwayne Evans after that victory. “I can’t think of a better tribute than to get a win.”
Evans will be the focal point of Wichita State’s defense. The power forward is averaging a team-high 14.4 points and had 33 points and 12 rebounds to earn a spot on the all-tournament team in the Cancun Challenge this week as the Billikens split two games.
Saint Louis fell 63-57 to No. 10 Wisconsin on Tuesday before bouncing back the next day with a 62-52 consolation win over Old Dominion behind Evans’ season-high 21 points.
Wichita State captured the Cancun Challenge as part of a 9-0 start last season en route to the Final Four.
Although the Shockers have the experience of reaching college basketball’s final weekend, they are breaking in a new starting point guard in Fred VanVleet and new center in Kadeem Coleby.
Both teams play outstanding defense. Saint Louis is holding opponents to 39.5 percent shooting, which is close to the Missouri Valley Conference-best 38.6 mark by Wichita State.
The Shockers feel they survived their biggest test of the season Tuesday. Their defense forced the high-scoring Cougars duo of Tyler Haws and Matt Carlino to miss 24 of 34 shots, although they combined for 38 points.
“To this point, this is the best team we’ve played,” coach Gregg Marshall said, “and they certainly passed with a high mark.”
Neither club shoots 3-pointers well, with Wichita State at 32.4 percent and Saint Louis at 31.4.
These teams last met in 1975. Saint Louis leads the series 42-18, with most of the matchups taking place when the Billikens were in the MVC from 1937-74.