Western Kentucky (17-15) vs. South Alabama (17-11)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, March 9, 9:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Convention Center Court (8,000) -- Hot Springs, Arkansas. Television: None. Home Record: WKU 11-4, USA 10-3. Away Record: WKU 4-9, USA 7-6. Neutral Record: WKU 2-2, USA 0-2. Conference Record: WKU 10-10, USA 14-6. Series Record: South Alabama leads, 33-30.
GAME NOTES: The quarterfinal round of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament continues on Saturday night, as the third-seeded South Alabama Jaguars square off against the sixth-seeded Western Kentucky Hilltoppers at Convention Center Court in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
The winner will advance to the semifinals on Sunday to play either Troy or Arkansas State.
WKU, the 2012 SBC Tournament champion, got this year's tournament off on the right foot with 74-60 triumph over 11th-seeded ULM in Friday night's first round. The win allowed the Hilltoppers to move to 17-15 overall, and they have won four of their last five outings.
South Alabama (17-11) earned the final bye in the conference tourney by piecing together a very strong 14-6 season in the SBC, which was actually a better mark than No. 2 seed and West Division champion Arkansas State. The Jaguars closed the regular season with wins in six of their last eight games, including a 53-49 triumph at Troy last Saturday.
These two teams split the season series, with WKU winning most recently on Feb. 28 in Bowling Green, 79-73. USA has a handle on the all-time series however, 33-30.
Western Kentucky dominated the opening half against ULM in the first round, outshooting it from the field, .692 to .323, to go into halftime with a commanding 22-point lead and it never looked back. T.J. Price led the way with 18 points on the evening, while George Fant added 12 points on 6-of-6 field goal shooting. On the season, the Hilltoppers' offensive attack hasn't done much to stand out, as they put up a modest 67.7 ppg, but they do score more than they allow (66.3 ppg). Price was named Second Team All-SBC this season and he nets 15.0 ppg thanks mostly to 74 3-pointers. Fant is an asset in the frontcourt with 12.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg and more than a block per contest. Jamal Crook runs an efficient point, pouring in 12.3 ppg on 48.7 percent from the field, to go along with 4.4 apg and 1.5 spg.
The Jaguars struggled against Troy last week, shooting just 43.1 percent from the field, turning the ball over 15 times, and not taking advantage of their few free-throw attempts (4-of-9), but they played outstanding defense in the four-point win, holding the Trojans to 35.2 percent field goal efficiency. SBC Player of the Year Augustine Rubit put forth another rock-solid effort with 13 points and 10 rebounds, Javier Carter (10 points, 13 rebounds, five blocks) was also a menace in the paint, and Antoine Allen chipped in 12 points. Rubit earned the league's top individual honor by ranking second in scoring (18.9 ppg) and first in rebounding (10.8 ppg), to go along with 1.3 bpg and a .484 field goal percentage. Rubit gets plenty of help down low with Mychal Ammons (10.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 0.9 bpg) and Carter (6.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.5 bpg) also enjoying strong seasons.
WKU may not be the league's most talented team, but it showed last season that it can sneak up on teams and get hot at the right time. The Hilltoppers' tournament experience gives them an edge, but South Alabama's forward play should be able to beat up on the WKU frontcourt enough to allow the Jaguars to advance.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: South Alabama 71, Western Kentucky 66
03/09 11:10:49 ET