Dillard first-year men’s basketball coach Mike Newell is a stranger to the Crosstown Classic against rival Xavier.
But Newell knows the Bleu Devils have not had much success in recent years.
Saturday’s matchup will be played at Xavier’s Convocation Center, a doubleheader beginning at 3 p.m. with the women’s teams.
“I know we have won once in about the last 10 times they’ve played,” Newell said. “That’s part of the culture we’re trying to change here.”
Make that once in the past 14. Xavier has won the past five meetings, including three times last season. Dillard last beat the Gold Rush on Feb. 28, 2013.
This may be the year for a Bleu Devils breakthrough. Dillard is 14-7, 5-1 in the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference. Xavier is 16-8 and 3-4.
Last week, the Gold Rush fell out of the NAIA top 25 poll for the first time in 55 weeks of basketball seasons. Perhaps an omen, Dillard entered at No. 24 at the same time. In this week’s poll, the Bleu Devils are No. 21.
Newell said the Rush is still a good team, and this being a rivalry game, it will be interesting to see how his team responds, especially against Xavier’s style of play.
“They are patient on offense, often making five, six passes,” Newell said. “And they play really good defense. Their point guard (Morris Wright) is one of the best players in the conference, and he does a good job on both ends.”
Xavier coach Dannton Jackson, who has seen four Dillard coaches come and go during his 13-year tenure, said the key to who wins will be rebounding. Dillard is second in the nation in offensive rebounding (17.2 per game), led by center Dennis Reed, who leads the nation in the category at 4.2.
“We have to keep Reed off the offensive glass, and (forward) Demetric Austin gets a lot of points that way,” Jackson said.
On the women’s side, No. 24 Xavier (15-8, 4-3) also has won 13 of the past 14 meetings. But the Devils (8-11, 3-3) won the first meeting last year 53-42 at Dillard before losing a close one at Xavier 60-57.
The Gold Nuggets have been a GCAC power for two decades. Two of their conference losses came after injuries hit, most notably to freshman post player Kiera Robinson.
“We are back healthy, for the most part,” coach Bo Browder said. “We usually don’t have this many losses at this point of the conference schedule, but we feel we can make a run to a top spot for the tournament.”
To beat Dillard, he said, Xavier most contain forward Alena Evans, a strong post player who averages 16.7 points and 8.2 rebounds.
The Bleu Devils have had a recent development that bears watching: Seldom-used junior guard Benita Lee scored 18 points on six 3-pointers in 23 minutes of an 81-66 home win in Dillard’s most recent game, Jan. 30 vs. Tougaloo.
“She has given us a spark that we need,” Dillard coach Norbert Rome said. “We have shown we can be up for the challenge. We have beaten (No. 7) Shawnee State, and we beat (then-No. 23) Loyola twice.”