The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, February 23, 8:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Cajundome (11,550) -- Lafayette, Louisiana. Television: CSS, ESPN3.com. Home Record: WKU 10-3, Louisiana 10-4. Away Record: WKU 3-9, Louisiana 1-13. Neutral Record: WKU 1-2, Louisiana 0-0. Conference Record: WKU 8-9, Louisiana 7-10. Series Record: Western Kentucky leads, 26-16.
GAME NOTES: Both the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers and the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns attempt to build momentum off of wins from earlier in the week when the two teams square off at the Cajundome on Saturday night in a Sun Belt Conference clash.
WKU had been losers of three in a row heading into its home matchup with last- place ULM on Thursday night, but they came away with a convincing 75-57 win to improve to 14-14 overall and 8-9 in conference. The Hilltoppers haven't experienced much success away from Bowling Green however, going only 3-9 in true road games.
Louisiana's season has been a disappointment on the whole, as it has gone just 11-17 overall and 7-10 in the league, but things are starting to look up as the team has posted wins in three of its last four contests. The Cajuns opened up their final homestand of the season with wins over Florida Atlantic (58-57) and Troy (76-66) to move to 10-4 at the Cajundome.
WKU made easy work of the Cajuns in the first matchup this season, claiming a 72-49 decision on Jan. 17 to extend its lead in the all-time series to 26-16.
The Hilltoppers had very little trouble getting past ULM in its latest game, as they outshot the Warhawks from the field (49.1 percent to 36.4 percent) and dominated the rebounding battle (43-28) on their way to the 18-point victory. George Fant and T.J. Price each poured in 15 points, with Fant adding nine rebounds and Price pitching in with seven boards, five assists and three blocks. Jamal Crook tallied 13 points and seven assists, while Brandon Harris shot 4-of-8 from 3-point range off the bench for 12 points. On the season, WKU scores a modest 66.6 ppg, but its scoring defense ranks third-best in the conference, allowing only 65.8 ppg to its opponents. Price is the leading scorer with 14.4 ppg thanks mostly to his active nature for 3-point territory (63-of-177). Crook (12.8 ppg, 4.4 apg) missed 11 games earlier in the season and his return has been invaluable to the lineup. Fant chips in across the board with 13.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg and nearly a block and a steal per outing.
The Cajuns managed to hold off Troy earlier this week by piecing together a solid shooting effort, as they made 23-of-47 from field (including 7-of-15 from 3-point range) and 23-of-28 from the foul line en route to the 10-point home win. Elfrid Payton played all 40 minutes and cashed in with an outstanding performance, logging 23 points, nine rebounds, five assists and four steals. Alan-Michael Thompson shot 6-of-9 from beyond the arc for 20 points, while Shawn Long was a beast in the low block with 18 points, nine boards and five blocked shots. Louisiana has grown accustomed to strong offensive outputs, as it ranks second in the league in putting up 70.8 ppg, but it is often let down by its porous defense, which allows a league-high 73.2 ppg. Long ranks among the league leaders in scoring (15.7 ppg), rebounding (10.3 ppg) and blocks (2.1). Payton has accumulated league-best totals in assists (5.3 apg) and steals (2.5 spg) while also tallying 15.5 ppg and 5.7 rpg. Rounding out the SBC's top scoring trio is Bryant Mbamalu, who nets 13.9 ppg on 47.3 percent field goal efficiency.
Both teams are similar in the fact that each has shown promise but has been ineffective away from its home court, which naturally gives Louisiana the edge here in Lafayette, as its strong offensive output should continue in its final game at the Cajundome this season.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Louisiana 74, Western Kentucky 67
02/23 10:43:54 ET