South Alabama (17-11) vs. Denver (21-8)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Sunday, March 4, 9:45 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Convention Center Court (6,000) -- Hot Springs, Arkansas. Television: None. Home Record: USA 9-5, Denver 14-2. Away Record: USA 6-6, Denver 7-6. Neutral Record: USA 2-0, Denver 0-0. Conference Record: USA 8-8, Denver 11-5. Series Record: South Alabama leads, 12-11.
GAME NOTES: The sixth-seeded South Alabama Jaguars are set to take on the third-seeded Denver Pioneers in the quarterfinals of the 2012 Sun Belt Conference Tournament tonight at Convention Center Court in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
South Alabama slipped by 11th-seed Troy on Saturday night, 87-81, to reach tonight's quarterfinals, and the win brings the Jaguars' overall record to 17-11 and they have won seven of their past nine games. The triumph over Troy was also USA's first conference tournament win since 2009.
Denver went 21-8 overall in the regular season and finished 11-5 in the Sun Belt, which includes wins in four straight to close out the regular season, to earn the No. 3 seed in this event. It was a historic season for the Pioneers, as the 21 wins are the most in the team's 89-year NCAA Division I history. DU was also the third seed last year when it was upset in the first round by FIU, and it is now 8-11 all-time in the tournament since joining the conference for the 1999-2000 season.
With regard to the all-time series between these two teams, South Alabama holds to the slimmest of leads, 12-11, although Denver won the only meeting this season, 67-50 back on Jan. 7.
South Alabama's offense was in sync in the first-round win, connecting on 50.3 percent of its field goal attempts, including 9-of-16 from three-point range, while holding Troy to just 40.3 percent overall. The Jaguars were paced by a couple of big-time performances from Freddie Goldstein (25 points) and Augustine Rubit (18 points, 14 rebounds). The 87-point outburst was a departure for the South Alabama offense, which usually nets a modest 66.6 ppg, sixth-best in the conference. Rubit's production was no fluke however, as he finished the regular season as the league's top rebounder (9.3 rpg) and third- leading scorer (14.9 ppg), landing him a spot on the All-Sun Belt Conference First Team. Goldstein has been a great outside complement to Rubit, draining a conference-best 2.4 three-pointers per game. The Jaguars lost the turnover battle on Saturday, 13-4, only magnifying their disappointing turnover margin this year (-3.41).
Denver was one of the nation's most efficient teams during the regular season, ranking ninth in the country in field goal percentage (.490) and free-throw percentage (.765), while knocking down an impressive 39.9 percent of its three-point shots. The Pioneers' defense was spectacular as well, allowing a mere 60.7 ppg. DU was able to reach all of those lofty numbers behind some serious star power. Chris Udofia was named to the All-SBC First Team after ranking second in the league in scoring (14.9 ppg) and fourth in field goal percentage (.537), while adding 5.3 rpg and 2.8 apg to his impressive stat line. Udofia also ranked second in the conference in blocks at 2.4 per contest, which helped earn him the conference's Defensive Player of the Year award. Brian Stafford (14.3 ppg) was the Sun Belt's most efficient shooter from beyond the arc (.460), and he earned a spot on the All-SBC Third Team. Royce O'Neale adds 6.5 rpg and a conference-best 86.4 free-throw percentage to the mix. Starting guard Chase Hallam will miss the remainder of the season due to a back injury.
Denver has not been the same kind of team away from home (7-6), and South Alabama has the fire-power to compete, but with the Pioneers's studs well- rested, they should be able to shoot their way past the Jaguars and into the semifinals.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Denver 77, South Alabama 72
03/04 10:37:36 ET