The numbers continue to grow and become more impressive for UL-Lafayette’s men's basketball team, but Ragin’ Cajuns coach Bob Marlin insists his team is keeping it in perspective.
“We’ve groomed our players to feel the same way I do,” Marlin said Monday. “You can’t look too far ahead or too far behind. You deal with the moment and accept the next challenge, and our guys have done that. A couple of these guys have been with me for four years. That’s pretty good leadership.”
Four-year seniors Bryce Washington and Johnathan Stove are the nucleus of a program that has won 102 games since the start of the 2013-14 season, the most of any Sun Belt Conference team and the third-most in any five-year span in Cajuns history. But even those two haven’t experienced this kind of success.
Going into home games this week against improved South Alabama and defending Sun Belt Tournament champion Troy, the Cajuns (17-3, 7-0) hold their best 20-game record since the storied 1972-73 team started out 18-2. UL-Lafayette’s 13-game Sun Belt win streak is the longest in school history, and the 12-game win streak in the Cajundome is the nation’s 15th-longest.
The Cajuns have won seven in a row, all in Sun Belt play, the ninth-longest streak in the country. More impressively, all seven wins to start league play have come by double-digit margins; no Sun Belt team has ever done that.
Washington, the nation’s 13th-leading rebounder (10.7 per game) who has nine double-doubles, boiled it down to simpler terms.
“We’re winning, and that motivates us to keep doing what we’ve been doing,” he said. “Everybody’s healthy and everybody’s involved.”
The Cajuns added two more double-digit wins on the road over the past weekend, romping past Texas-Arlington 45-21 in the second half for a 77-65 Thursday win and leading wire-to-wire in an 80-55 dismantling of Texas State on Saturday. UL-Lafayette has swept road pairings in Arkansas and Texas this year, a first for the program since the Sun Belt went to travel-partner scheduling.
Those wins gave the Cajuns a two-game lead in the Sun Belt race, but Marlin was quick to point out that the Cajuns don’t get to the mid-point of the league season until after this weekend’s two home games.
“We have a long way to go,” he said. “But these guys, guys that have been here for four years, have just completed the sixth month of their career (defined by Marlin as a four-week stretch) without losing a game. We said way back that if our defense is better, we share the ball and we stay healthy, we have a chance to have a special team.”
The Cajuns have accomplished those three objectives so far. They are the Sun Belt’s top scoring team and are 22nd nationally (84.3), but in league play they’re also allowing a conference-best 59.7 points per game while leading the league in steals and rebounds.
Sharing the ball? UL-Lafayette leads the Sun Belt and ranks ninth nationally in assists per game (18.2 per game), and tops the league in assist-turnover ratio.
The Cajuns also have been healthy since early in the season. Junior forward JaKeenan Gant missed two games with an injured hand but has returned to start the last three games.
“We missed him those two games,” Marlin said. “The splint he’s wearing may be bothering him a little bit, but he made the go-ahead 3 at UTA. We led the last 13 minutes there, and he was a big part of that.”
Marlin said his staff is doing all it can to keep health issues at a minimum. No player is averaging as many as 29 minutes per game; eight players are averaging between 15.8 and 28.9 minutes per game.
“Our depth has won us a lot of games,” Marlin said. “We said it the other night. UTA has a nice team, but we’re better one through eight and we’re definitely better one through 12. We can go deeper in our bench than anyone in the league, and that’s been a plus for us.
“We don’t have anyone in the top 20 in the conference in minutes. It’s a long season, and we’ve done a good job of keeping our guys fresh. I feel pretty good about our health going into the stretch.”