LAFAYETTE — The on-again, off-again University of Louisiana at Lafayette men’s basketball team will spend the week trying to do in Alabama what it did in Georgia earlier this season: find the “on” switch.
On the heels of a nine-game win streak that started during a two-game swing in Georgia, the Cajuns (14-11, 10-6 Sun Belt) have lost three consecutive games to drop out of an important top-two spot in the conference race.
All three of those losses came by four or fewer points, but they’re losses all the same. With four games remaining in the regular season, coach Bob Marlin is hopeful his team finds its mojo again before the conference tournament starts next month.
“You’ve got to be positive,” Marlin said. “Five weeks, we don’t lose a game; then we drop (three) in one week. In college basketball … it’s happening across the country.
“We just need to refocus. Our goals are there. We only need to win three in a row. We’ve still got time to play better. We were going to have a hard time running the table anyway.”
Earlier this season, the Cajuns were mired in a similar slump. They went into prolonged shooting slumps on an 0-2 road trip to Arkansas that left them 1-3 in conference play.
But something clicked when they traveled to face Georgia Southern and Georgia State. The Cajuns suddenly found the shooting form that had eluded them for most of the season and won both games in fairly convincing fashion to spur a nine-game win streak.
If the Cajuns are to turn things around in their final two weeks like they did in Georgia, it must start in Troy on Thursday night in a game the Cajuns are favored to win.
The Trojans (9-18, 4-12) have had a rough go of it this season but have turned things around as of late. They won just one of their first 11 conference games — a stretch that included an 88-65 loss at the Cajundome — but have won three of their past five.
Guard Wesley Person has been key to Troy’s resurgence as of late, averaging 22 points in the Trojans’ past five contests, including 28 and 30-point outbursts in his past two games.
“We’re going to have to contain Person, who had a career high the other night,” Marlin said. “He’s very capable. He’s a guy that can score.”
The Cajuns limited Person to 11 points in the first meeting on 4-of-10 shooting.
The real test on this road trip will likely come in Mobile, Alabama, against South Alabama. It got ugly at times earlier this season when the two teams met at the Cajundome, with six technical fouls called between the two teams and seemingly constant verbal sparring throughout the game.
“This is a game where there’ll be some revenge factor, I’m sure they will be ready to go since there were a lot of technical fouls in the game here, some exchanges before and after the game,” Marlin said. “I’m sure they’ll be ready to go, and hopefully we’ll have a good officiating crew that can control the game.”
The Cajuns have struggled to win on South Alabama’s home floor. They’ve lost three straight in Mobile while allowing the Jaguars to score 86 points per game and shoot 55.1 percent (86-for-156).
“It’s been a tough place since we’ve been here,” Marlin said. “They outshot us. Our defense wasn’t good, we played a similar style, and they were able to make shots and we didn’t.”
Cajuns make push toward top-two seed: Rejuvenated after winning both games of a two-game road swing to Texas, the Cajuns women are jockeying for position as the regular season draws to a finish.
With four games left to go, they are effectively two games behind Little Rock, which has won nine straight, for a top-two seed in the conference tournament. Unlike the men’s tournament, there are no byes in the women’s tournament.
This week is a critical one for the Cajuns, as they’ll face a potent Troy offense and a South Alabama squad that is right behind them in the standings.
The Troy game will be a matchup of philosophical differences. The Cajuns enter Thursday’s contest with the league’s best-scoring defense at 54.8 points per game, while Troy comes in with the most-dynamic offense at 82.6 points.
The scales tipped in favor of defense the first time they met this year, with the Cajuns holding Troy to a conference game-low output in UL-Lafayette’s 56-53 win.
The Cajuns also won their first meeting against South Alabama this season, limiting the Jaguars to 50 points. But South Alabama is entering its Thursday matchup against last-place UL-Monroe riding a four-game win streak.