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Crusaders enjoy rest before nonconference test

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Updated: January 3, 2013 11:06AM



VALPARAISO — Dealing with a painful hip injury, Erik Buggs probably benefitted most from the eight days between games for Valparaiso.

“I feel great,” said the senior point guard, who initially got hurt against Northern Illinois, then aggravated it at Nebraska. “The week off helped a lot. I got a chance to get into the training room, and basically just use this week as preparation and recovery.

“It’s been a good chance to get us some rest. After two games back-to-back, guys’ bodies are a little bit sore. It was a pretty good chance for everybody to recuperate and focus on the big game we have on Sunday.”

Indeed, Buggs wasn’t the only one who could have used the time off, as the Crusaders (5-1) head into one of the more intriguing non-conference games on their schedule at Saint Louis on Sunday, after they won games on Nov. 23 and 24 against Chicago State and Bethune-Cookman at the Athletics-Recreation Center as part of the Joe Cipriano Nebraska Classic.

Bobby Capobianco last week made his highly anticipated Valparaiso debut, but he’s not all the way back from Nov. 8 hernia surgery. And Ryan Broekhoff and Vashil Fernandez, as well as LaVonte Dority (still on target to make his debut on Dec. 15 at Missouri State, after his transfer from South Florida), all have been trying to shake the lingering effects of illness.

“Our trainer, Rod Moore, has been very busy — and our health center here, and team doctors,” said Crusaders coach Bryce Drew, whose team opened the season with six games in 16 days.

“It was really much-needed. We have a lot of guys that have been sick, some guys who have been banged up. So it’s been nice to have some time to try to let some guys heal and get better.”

The Crusaders might not be totally recovered; they have been limiting Buggs’ contact in practice, and Capobianco still hasn’t been going full bore, for example. But they’re in relatively good shape for the Billikens (3-3).

“It’s been nice to have a full week of actual practice before a big game like Saint Louis,” Broekhoff said. “They’re very, very tough. This week has helped us prepare and everyone get their body right, and make sure we’re doing everything necessary to put our best foot forward.

“They don’t really have an overwhelming weakness in any area. They definitely can play defense, and they have several shooters that can fill it up quite quickly. We’re definitely going to have to be at our best to beat them.”

The Billikens this season have been under interim coach Jim Crews, taking over for Rick Majerus, who on Saturday lost his battle with a heart ailment.

They were picked second in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll, after finishing as the regular-season runner-up last season and advancing to the NCAA Tournament Round of 32 before losing to Michigan State.

Senior point guard Kwamain Mitchell — a first-team A-10 preseason selection, after averaging 12.4 points per game last season — has yet to play a game this season after undergoing surgery to repair a fracture in his left foot. But they still have three players averaging in double-figure scoring in junior forward Dwayne Evans (13.5 points, 7.2 rebounds), senior forward Cody Ellis (13.0, 4.5) and junior guard Mike McCall Jr.

Junior guard Jordair Jett was a preseason all-defensive team pick, and freshman guard Keith Carter could return to action after suffering a leg injury in the team’s second game of the season.

Broekhoff is particularly familiar with Ellis, as both attended the Australian Institute of Sport.

“We’re actually quite close, so there’s been a few text messages back and forth, just a little bit of playful banter, you could say,” Broekhoff said. “It’s going to be really nice to actually get to play another Australian that I grew up with, and see how he’s doing at his school. It’s kind of the first Australian that I’ve played that I personally have grown up with. I played against (then-freshman Jackson) Aldridge at Butler last year, but he’s a couple years younger than me, so I never actually got to play with him. It should be exciting, it should be a lot of fun.”

The Crusaders had intense practices on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, then had Thursday off, before resuming workouts on Friday and Saturday. While they welcomed the break between games, they also were anxious to return to competition, especially against a quality opponent in Saint Louis.

“They’re going to be a solid team that’s probably going to upset a few big-name teams, so if we can go in there and sneak one out ourselves, it would look really good on an end-of-season resume,” Broekhoff said.

Said Buggs: “It’s a huge opportunity. It’s going to be a test to see exactly how good we actually are.”

Around the rim: Valparaiso leads the all-time series against Saint Louis 5-2, though four of those wins came in the early 1920s. The teams have not met since January of 1998, a 77-66 home win for the Billikens. That actually was the Crusaders’ last loss that season before their run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, losing to Rhode Island, also in St. Louis. … The Crusaders play four of their next five games on the road.



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