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Billikens look to build season momentum against Santa Clara

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The Billiken men’s basketball team returns to action on Wednesday night at Chaifetz Arena against Santa Clara University at 7 p.m.

Junior Dwayne Evans matched a career-high with 21 points to help the Billikens to a 76-59 victory in their season opener Friday night against USC Upstate. Cody Ellis (15 points), Jordair Jett (14) and Mike McCall Jr. (14) also scored in double figures for SLU, who shot 51.9 percent from the field as a team and hit 19 of 22 free throws.

The Broncos also notched a victory in their season opener, cruising past Simpson (Calif.) University 106-66 at home on Saturday. Senior guard Kevin Foster scored 27 points to lead all scorers, including sinking 7 of 15 shots from behind the arc.

Foster led the West Coast Conference in scoring at 17.8 points per game last season despite appearing in just 18 games. The former All-WCC First Team guard was suspended for the season following a DUI arrest in late January. His suspension, coupled with a preseason season-ending injury to forward Marc Trasolini, culminated in an 8-22 (0-16) finish to the 2011-12 season.

Both players are back for their senior seasons, however, and appear poised to help the team compete with Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s for the WCC title.

“Having two fifth-year seniors return- all-conference players- along with two other seniors who have been part-time starters in each of their first three years gives us the most optimism, because we have the most experienced senior class we’ve ever had since we’ve been here,” coach Kerry Keating said in the 2012-13 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Preview Yearbook. “Obviously, with Marc and Kevin coming back, from my perspective, scoring tends to work out. We have to get better defensively and rebounding. We were atrocious defensively last year and we were still competitive.”

Foster, who was named MVP of the College Invitational Tournament two years ago, has 311 career 3-pointers (he’s already broken Steve Nash’s school record 263) and 1,718 points. The combo guard was lethal from behind the arc in 2010-11, leading the nation with 140 threes.

Trasolini, whose 122 blocks are fourth most all-time at Santa Clara, logged 16 minutes in his first game back in over a year, registering 13 points and nine rebounds.

While the 6-foot-9 forward figures to be a consistent physical presence under the basket, his playing time Wednesday evening figures to be limited as Keating eases him back into the lineup. That does not bode well for the Broncos, who were out-rebounded by an average of seven per conference game last season. SCU did not fair much better defensively, allowing opponents to shoot 50.4-percent from the field and 37.5-percent from behind the arc.

“We have to get better defensively and rebounding. We were atrocious defensively last year and we were still competitive,” coach Keating said.

The Bills boast a much deeper and talented bench (especially if senior Cody Ellis is utilized off the bench again) and have a significant advantage defensively over the Broncos.

A win over Santa Clara should give the Billikens’ computer rankings a nice boost at season’s end as the Broncos play at Duke in late December before opening a conference slate that includes games against No. 21 Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and Brigham Young. While this is a rather daunting stretch of games for a team that failed to win a single conference game last season, a win by Santa Clara in any of these games would add more value to a Billiken victory on Wednesday night.

SCU leads the all-time series 2-1. The teams split a home-and-home series during the 1990-91 and 1990-92 seasons, with the home team emerging victorious on both occasions. The Billikens and Broncos first encountered one another during the 1975 Bruin Classic in Los Angeles, which Santa Clara won 69-66.

Brian Haenchen covers the Saint Louis University men’s basketball team for The University News. You can follow him on Twitter (@Brian_Haenchen) or email him (haenchenb9@gmail.com).


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