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Pilots fly in St. Louis to take on 23rd-ranked Billikens

Coming off their first loss of the 2011-12 ranked Saint Louis Billikens will try to make amends as they conference action from Chaifetz Arena.

Portland opened the 2011-12 season 2-0, but proceeded to lose its next four games. The Pilots, who play their basketball out of the West Coast Conference and will begin league play against nationally-ranked Gonzaga on December 28, put the brakes on the recent slide by knocking off Lewis & Clark on Tuesday, 76-64. Portland is 0-3 in true road games this season, although the team does have a pair of wins at a neutral site to its credit.

Saint Louis, which calls the Atlantic 10 Conference home and is among the nationally ranked for the first time since the 1993-94 campaign, opens a six- game homestand tonight, with its next road tilt not taking place until New Year's Eve at New Mexico. Unfortunately, SLU is likely one and done in terms of its current place in the Top-25, as the team dropped a 75-68 decision at Loyola Marymount on Tuesday. Still, the Billikens are 2-0 at home here in the early going, and a win in this clash will get coach Rick Majerus (497-209) to within two of reaching 500 victories for his career.

Portland took a 69-60 win from Saint Louis last season at home in the only previous meeting between these two teams.

The Pilots are yielding 76.6 ppg, while netting 68.6 ppg in hitting a mere 40.7 percent of their field goal attempts. They own a +2.3 rebounding advantage, but are -3.4 in turnover margin. The team boasts just two double- digit scorers, and neither Nemanja Mitrovic (11.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg) nor Ryan Nicholas (10.6 ppg, 8.1 rpg) are going to make many opposing coaches lose sleep trying to figure out a way to defend them. Tim Douglas is close to joining the ranks as he turns in 9.4 ppg to go along with 3.4 apg. Unfortunately, he averages three turnovers per outing as well. Thomas van der Mars was high man for Portland in its recent win over Lewis & Clark, netting 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the floor, and he grabbed seven rebounds for good measure. Kevin Bailey came off the bench to tally 14 points after hitting three treys, and Nicholas finished with 11 points and nine boards for the Pilots, who made good on just 40.6 percent of their total shots, but claimed a 40-29 rebounding edge, took advantage of 17 turnovers, and held the Pioneers to 38.5 percent field goal efficiency.

Saint Louis has played exceptional defense to this point in the season, allowing just 57.1 ppg on 39.5 percent shooting from the field, and the Billikens have proven to be an opportunistic bunch as well, coming up with 15.1 turnovers per outing. Offensively, Brian Conklin paces the team with 16.4 ppg, and he pulls down 4.7 rpg as well, while Kwamain Mitchell adds 12.6 points and 4.1 assists per contest, and Cody Ellis chips in 12.3 ppg. Mitchell is just 13 points shy of 1,000 for this career. As a team, the Billikens are hitting 43.9 percent of their three-point tries to rank among the best in the country, and Ellis and Kyle Cassity have combined to drain 29-of-58 (.500) of their long-range shots. In the recent loss at Loyola Marymount, Ellis dropped four treys in tallying a team-high 18 points, while Mitchell and Conklin added 13 points apiece. Unfortunately, SLU committed 15 turnovers which led to 18 points for the Lions, who used a highly-efficient second half (.619 FG percentage, 4-of-5 from beyond the arc, and a 19-of-22 from the foul line) to earn the victory.