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ST. LOUIS (AP) -- The swatch of blue hair and Batman stud earrings call attention to Saint Louis sixth man and free spirit Cody Ellis, the Australian import who's also the team's top 3-point threat.

A return to form in the regular-season finale Saturday for Ellis greatly increases the odds for a school that's one win away from its first conference title in more than 40 years.

Ellis was 0 for 15 in an overtime loss Wednesday at Xavier, 11 of the misses from 3-point range. And with his parents right behind the bench after making the arduous, 40-hour globe-hopping trip to see the 6-foot-8 senior off in style, too.

"I'm just going to try to get it out of my head," Ellis said. "Probably next game, the law of averages says I should knock a couple down, eh?"

Ellis has made three or more 3-pointers nine times this season, including six at Fordham to tie his career best. He leads the team with 52 3-pointers and reasoned, "I've just got to stay confident."

Interim coach Jim Crews' advice at Xavier was simple: Fire away.

"I told him probably three times in the game to keep shooting," Crews said. "You're not going to pinch-hit for Pujols or Mantle or Musial or someone who's good, are you? If he's open, I want him shooting it."

Crews has kept the program built by the late Rick Majerus humming with the 16th-ranked Billikens (23-6, 12-3 Atlantic 10) tied for first place in the conference heading into the finale against La Salle (21-7, 11-4), which also has a title shot.

Saint Louis last earned at least a share of a conference regular season title in 1970-71, in the Missouri Valley. The last outright title was in 1956-57.

To accomplish that, the Billikens need a win coupled with a VCU loss against Temple.

Crews won four conference championships at Indiana as a player, including the Hoosiers' unbeaten season in 1976, but coaching has been a reality check. In 24 years at Evansville and Army, he produced four NCAA tournament teams.

"I'd say the majority of players go through college without a championship," Crews said. "This league has 16 teams and that body of work, you've got to earn it."

The opponent is no pushover. La Salle, which has won seven of eight, needs a win on Saturday and a VCU loss against Temple to take the championship.

La Salle has beaten two Top 25 teams and is 2-0 at Saint Louis' Chaifetz Center.

"It's a big game for La Salle, it's a big game for us," Crews said. "It would really be neat and cool for these kids, all the things they've been through, to win a championship."

That Saint Louis is NCAA tournament-bound for the second straight season after ending a 12-year drought last year is a given.

"When I first got here we were on the bottom of the league," senior reserve forward Cory Remekun said. "Now we're fighting for a championship. It's crazy to see how much we've improved."

The Xavier loss ended an 11-game winning streak for Saint Louis, which has had a season of high notes with one of the stingiest defenses in the country and a balanced attack with six players averaging seven or more points.

"Some of the guys I've played with have gone through a lot," said senior guard Kwamain Mitchell, who was suspended for a semester in 2010 and returned as a calming presence on the court. "I appreciate the opportunity to be a part of it and I'm going to leave everything on the court."

The three seniors plus Femi John, who had a career-ending knee injury a few seasons ago, will be honored after the game.

"It is emotional, should be emotional," Crews said. "Personally, I've always had a hard time with senior day. It's hard on the coaches, too."
Saturday, 09 March 2013 11:25
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MOBERLY, Mo. (AP) -- As an adult, Tim Wolfe parlayed a lucrative career as a software executive into a return to his alma mater as the University of Missouri's 23rd president. The teen Wolfe? A self-described "unfocused student" who cared more about football, girls and his part-time job at a Columbia gas station.

Those personal details don't often make into the speeches Wolfe typically gives to civic leaders, business owners, alumni donors or state lawmakers. But as he kicked off a statewide "Show Me Value" higher education tour Friday morning in the Moberly High School gym, the 54-year-old prodigal son played to his audience.

"No matter what path you follow, you should include college on that plan," he told more than 300 Moberly eighth- and ninth-graders. "Quite simply, education is a path toward lifelong success."

While few in Columbia - home to both the flagship campus and the four-campus system's headquarters - need a reminder about the university's prominence, the statewide tour is aimed at promoting higher education to Missourians who live outside the state's major cities. Wolfe next heads to St. Joseph on March 22, with additional stops planned in April and May as well once classes resume after summer beak.

Wolfe, who took office in February 2012, said he wants to combat what he sees as a growing national sentiment that devalues the benefits of a four-year college degree and suggests more students should enter the workforce sooner. He didn't gloss over those criticisms, making reference to both spiraling student debt and plunging job placement rates.

He encouraged the students not to be "scared away" by college costs, noting that generous financial aid means many students won't pay the full "sticker price" at the Missouri campuses and other schools. Wolfe also referenced recent research by Georgetown University's Center for Education and the Workforce estimating that those who obtain a four-year degree will earn $1 million more over their lifetime than their counterparts who only graduate high school. Count 15-year-old Gage Mast among those who took the message to heart. "It kind of made me want to go to college more," he said. "You see not just your parents want you to go, but somebody else who was successful."

Wolfe isn't the first University of Missouri president to hit the hustings in hopes of propping up higher education's battered image. Elson Floyd, the university's president from 2003 to 2007, took pride in visiting each of the state's 114 counties on a more informal goodwill tour. But his audiences consisted of grown-ups, not kids.

"The more you can personalize it, and they see you as a human being, the (better) it can be," said Moberly High principal Aaron Vitt. "They're used to adults pontificating, being on a pedestal. When you can humanize it, it's more effective."

Wolfe didn't try to sell the teens too hard on the Columbia campus, which he attended, or the system's other campuses in Rolla, St. Louis and Kansas City.

Not that Mizzou in particular needs much help attracting new students. Enrollment has increased steadily over the past decade, with about 34,000 now calling Columbia home.

Stan Jones, president of Complete College America, said it's rare for those of Wolfe's stature to work so directly on community outreach. He also suggested the personal touch could resonate in ways that reminders from teachers, parents and guidance counselors could not.

"For an awful lot of students who go to college, it's a 12th-grade decision," said Jones, whose nonprofit group works to boost college completion rates. "Some of its not as deliberate and thoughtful as it needs to be."

Jones, a former Indiana higher education commissioner, said Wolfe's visit could help demystify the college experience and get students thinking sooner about what classes to take to prepare for college, how to obtain financial aid or even prompt some early campus visits - an experience he said is pivotal to winning over noncommittal or disinterested prospects.

"A lot of the knowledge these students have of college is from watching basketball games," he said. "They've not been on campus. It makes it more tangible."
Saturday, 09 March 2013 11:23
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A head-on collision in Godfrey, Illinois Friday, left two people dead. The accident happened just before 2PM.

The Madison County Sheriff's Office say two vehicles collided in the southbound lane of Martin Luther King Boulevard. Both drivers were pronounced dead at the scene.
Friday, 08 March 2013 16:39
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CHICAGO (AP) -- U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin says he's still unsure whether various gun-control proposals making their way through Congress should be introduced separately for votes or all bundled into one big bill.

The Illinois Democrat spoke at a news conference in Chicago Friday to promote one bill that would crack down on so-called straw purchasing -- where someone buys guns and sells them to others not authorized to buy weapons. It was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

Durbin appeared with the parents of Hadiya Pendleton, the Chicago teenager who was fatally shot days after performing at President Barack Obama's inauguration.

The bill approved Thursday by the judiciary committee has been named for Hadiya (hy-DEE'-uh) Pendleton. Durbin says it may have more bipartisan support than other separate proposals.
Friday, 08 March 2013 16:38
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