LAFAYETTE — After having 11 games to work out some kinks and get some players healthy, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette men’s basketball team is now preparing for an entirely different animal.
The Cajuns (6-5) play their first of 20 regular-season Sun Belt Conference games Tuesday, as they open on the road against Arkansas-Little Rock (5-5). The holidays afforded coach Bob Marlin’s team some needed rest, and he said they’re ready to get after it.
“We’re excited and energized, looking forward to start conference play against Little Rock,” Marlin said. “This is the main part of our season.”
A little of the Cajuns’ momentum was sapped when they lost a tight game on the road to Northwestern State in their nonconference finale, but the needle has generally been pointing in the right direction for a team that got off to a slow start for various reasons.
The Cajuns have reeled off five wins in seven games since their 1-3 start, thanks in large part to a healthier lineup that has shaken off its early troubles with shooting.
The Cajuns have been particularly effective in their past four games, when they averaged 102.3 points per game. The Cajuns bumped their scoring average up to 81.9 points per game over that stretch, making them the SBC’s top-scoring team by more than four points per game.
The scoring barrage has come largely on the strength of outside shooting, with the Cajuns connecting on better than 50 percent of their 3-point attempts in the past four games.
Marlin is happy with the quality of the deep shooting but still wants more quantity; the Cajuns rank next-to-last in the SBC in 3-point attempts per game.
“The last four or five games, we’ve shot it really well, but we’re still at the bottom of our league in attempts,” Marlin said. “We’ve got a guy who can score inside in Shawn Long … but we need to look to shoot more 3-point shots, especially on the road.”
Long has been another big key to the Cajuns resurgent play lately. Long has been lights-out since recovering from an early season bone bruise, averaging 19 points and 11.2 rebounds in the Cajuns past five games. The only times the Cajuns lost in that stretch are when Long found himself in foul trouble,
“We’re hoping he can have a strong conference season, and hopefully, he can make a difference in this game (Tuesday),” Marlin said.
If he stays out of foul trouble, the 6-foot-11 Long could be the difference against a team that will likely start only one player taller than 6-5.
“They’re not as big as they’ve been in the past,” Marlin said.
They may not be as big, but Marlin said the Trojans employ solid guard play and take advantage of their athletic forwards, Roger Woods (13.1 points per game) and James White (12.3), who lead the UALR scoring attack.
UALR is ranked as the SBC’s worst-scoring defense, giving up 71.3 points per game, but Marlin is expecting a challenge Tuesday.
“(UALR coach Steve Shields’) teams are tough, they’re good defensively, and they take on his personality,” Marlin said. “We’ve got to make shots, hopefully we can make some 3s.”
The Cajuns are hoping to close off a strong month with a fifth December win, but they’ll need to reverse a little recent history to do that. The Trojans have beaten the Cajuns on their home floor in five of the past six matchups, and the Cajuns have lost all four road games this season.
Cajuns look to continue strong start: The Cajuns women’s basketball team (8-1) will also play its SBC opener Tuesday against UALR (7-1).
The Cajuns matched the best start in school history before losing to a ranked Mississippi State team at home. They bounced back with two more wins against Alcorn State (64-57, OT) and Jackson State (65-56).
Three Cajuns average double figures, led by sophomore Jaylyn Gordon (15.1 points per game).
The Lady Trojans knocked off Oklahoma and LSU this year and are led by senior guard Taylor Gault, who is averaging 12.8 points, mostly off the bench.