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February 16, 2013Saturday will mark the end of the toughest four game stretch of the season for the Charlotte 49ers.
After they dropped their first consecutive games of the season in losses at Temple and home to VCU, they rebounded with a solid road victory over the No. 11 Butler Bulldogs.
But the last game in this stretch is perhaps the most daunting - and haunting - place that the 49ers will visit.
In 12 trips to Saint Louis, the 49ers have exactly one victory. It took a Herculean 39 points and 14 rebounds from Curtis Withers to gain that 83-78 victory, which had to be obtained in overtime.
Can trip No. 13 - and the last one in the foreseeable future - produce the second victory ever Budweiser city?
It won't be easy. The Billikens (18-5, 7-2) have won six straight games and are second in the Atlantic 10 standings. A huge home showdown looms for them on Tuesday against A10 leader VCU.
Their stout defense only allows 57.7 points per game, which is tops in the Atlantic 10. They also rank second with 9.7 steals per game and a +5 turnover margin. But they're just not solid on the defensive side, which was engrained in them by the late Rick Majerus.
The Billikens average 71.8 points per game, which ranks third in the A10. They have a balanced attack where six players average at least 7.3 points per game. They are led in scoring and rebounding by junior Dwayne Evans, who averages 11.7 points and 6.9 rebounds per game.
After some early struggles from the field, the 49ers have rebounded in their last three games. Although they lost two of them, they have shot 51.1 percent or better in their last three.
It has been a team effort on the offensive end since the team indefinitely suspended DeMario Mayfield.
Sophomore point guard Pierria Henry put together one of his best games of the season against the Bulldogs. He led the 49ers with 17 points and added four rebounds, four steals, three assists and most importantly - one turnover.
"He didn't force anything," said 49ers Head Coach Alan Major. "I can't think of one thing that he did out of character and tried to force something. I thought he played under control. He was aggressive. He took what the defense gave him."
Coach Major noted that the Billikens defense is more pressure oriented as opposed to the Bulldogs. The 49ers have already taken on one team during this stretch with that kind of defense, so Major knows what his team has to do to be successful.
"We just got to make sure that we take care of the ball and get the shots we want...especially early in the game," Major said.
Things to watch for and other notes
1. The one player that could be a nightmare for Charlotte tonight is Billikens junior guard Jordair Jett. Jett, who hasn't started an Atlantic 10 game and only nine games on the year, leads the team with 84 assists. He's also shooting 54 percent on the season from the field, 55.9 percent in Atlantic 10 play.
2. As noted, the 49ers have only one victory as a program at Saint Louis. The Billikens have had a week to prepare for this game, just like VCU did.
3. Denzel Ingram has hit four of his last five three point attempts. However, he did not attempt one against VCU. The Rams made sure they had a body on him at all times and they forced him into five turnovers. Ingram rebounded by not turning the ball over once in 31 minutes at Butler.
4. E. Victor Nickerson has raised his Atlantic 10 scoring average almost five points from his freshman to sophomore season. Last year, he only averaged 2.3 points per game. This season, he's averaging 7.0 points per game and he has attempted - and made - at least one free throw in 10 straight games.