LAFAYETTE — It’s too early in the season to call Friday’s game against Pepperdine a must-win for the Louisiana-Lafayette basketball team, but it’s the team’s last chance to nail down something crucial before league play starts in earnest.
With league play right around the corner, the Cajuns (3-5) are still in search of their first road win.
“It’s our last chance to win a nonconference road game,” coach Bob Marlin said. “It’s important we go play well.”
Getting that first one out of the way is made more important when looking at the Cajuns early conference schedule. After playing Appalachian State at home, their next four games come on the road against league foes, including games at Arkansas-Little Rock and Georgia State.
“This will be our sixth road game, sixth tough opponent,” Marlin said. “We’ll see if we can get better. … It’s a mindset. We’ve got to get to it and have some success on the road.”
Pepperdine (6-4) enters Friday’s game ron a four-game winning streak, and its last two wins came against solid Ball State and Long Beach State teams.
Junior guard Lamond Murray has been the driving offensive force behind that streak, averaging 16.8 points per game and leading the Waves in scoring in three of the past four games.
The Waves are a senior-laden team who, like the Cajuns, are returning most of their experienced players from last year’s team. One of those players is two-time All West Coast Conference first-team forward Stacy Davis, who is averaging 14.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game this season.
Part of the Pepperdine turnaround should be concerning to the Cajuns: After struggling during the early portion of the season from the 3-point line, the Waves have started sinking their shots from deep as of late.
Pepperdine has made 24 of its last 52 from beyond the arc (46 percent), and the Cajuns know all too well they can’t let that continue Friday.
Three-point defense has been the Cajuns’ Achilles’ heel this season, particularly on the road, where opponents have connected on 53 percent of their shots from deep.
That has been a big reason that the Cajuns’ road opponents are scoring, on average, 91.8 points per game this season, which in turn has dropped the Cajuns to an 0-5 record on the road.
But there was a positive sign earlier this week when the team fought back from a big early deficit to make a game out of it against UCLA, trimming a 19-point Bruins lead to four at one point before ultimately falling 89-80.
After the game, Marlin said a police officer walked him out to the bus and said to him, “ ‘Coach, look at it like this: I know you’re down right now, but you played them closer than Kentucky did.’ ”
It was a small victory, but Marlin and his team are hopeful the big, real victory comes Friday night.