Despite some epic matchups in the past few years that seemed to brew some bad blood between the teams, Louisiana-Lafayette men’s basketball coach Bob Marlin said Saturday’s game at Georgia State doesn’t have any special significance.
“I think we treat it like every game,” Marlin said Friday. “It’s the next game. It’s a conference game, an important game.”
The Cajuns (6-8, 2-3 Sun Belt) and the Panthers (11-3, 4-1) have taken turns representing the conference in the NCAA tournament in the past two years. They have combined for some great games — like last year’s thriller in the Cajundome (which the Cajuns won 84-80), and the conference tournament championship game the year before (which the Cajuns won in overtime).
But the newest models of these teams are a little different than in years past.
For the Cajuns, it’s a matter of perception. They have battled the Panthers near the top of the standings in recent years but now must fight their way back up the ladder after a tough start.
The Panthers have gotten by with some star power in recent years as they boasted the top 1-2 punch in the league with R.J. Hunter and Ryan Harrow, each of whom averaged better than 17.8 points per game in each of the past two years on some high-flying Panthers teams.
Those wings have been clipped a little bit this year. Both Harrow and Hunter are gone, and the Panthers have shifted into a more defensive-minded team. Their scoring average is down almost five points from last year and more than 10 points from two years ago, but they’re No. 2 in the league and No. 5 nationally in scoring defense.
“They’re good defensively,” Marlin said. “They’re active in their zone. They’re running a 1-3-1 trap, a halfcourt trap. From what I’ve seen of their defense, it looks solid.”
One thing that hasn’t changed about the Panthers is their ability to win at home. They’re 8-0 on their home court this season and have won 32 of their past 33 at the GSU Sports Arena. The Cajuns earned their first road win of the season Thursday at Georgia Southern to improve to 1-8 as visitors.
For the Cajuns, a win against a tough opponent and — even if Marlin wouldn’t admit it — a heated rival would mean they’ve exorcised their road demons of earlier this season.
It also would mean a split of a four-game road swing and would be a dramatic turnaround for a team that is about to host seven of its next eight games after playing just five home games in the season’s first two months.
“We’re playing better, and we’ve played a tough conference schedule to date,” Marlin said. “(Saturday) will be another one of the toughest games.”
Women eye a 5-1 start
Coming off a dominant defensive effort at Georgia Southern, the Cajuns women (11-3, 4-1) hope they can get another one against the SBC’s No. 3 scoring team, Georgia State (7-7, 2-3).
The Cajuns held Georgia Southern to 22 points over the final three quarters Thursday to give them their best start in conference play since 2006-07, when they went 25-9 and advanced to the NCAA tournament.
The Panthers are led in scoring by Makeba Ponder, who is averaging 13 points, but their true danger lies in their depth: Ten players are averaging better than four points.
Georgia State beat Louisiana-Monroe on Thursday to snap a three-game losing streak.