LAFAYETTE — It’ll be a battle of strengths between the UL-Lafayette and UL-Monroe men’s basketball teams Thursday in Monroe.
The Cajuns (13-11, 7-6) come into the contest with the Sun Belt Conference’s best scoring offense, averaging a shade under 80 points per game. Meanwhile, the first-place Warhawks (16-8, 10-3) have been playing a stifling brand of defense for the majority of their league games.
The advantage went to the defense the first time the two teams matched up, with UL-Monroe beating the Cajuns 57-55 in a January matchup at the Cajundome. Through 13 league games, the 55-point output is the Cajuns’ lowest point total by a nine-point margin.
“Monroe is the best defensive team in the league, they’ll be hard to score on,” said Cajuns coach Bob Marlin. “The game was in the 50s the first time, we didn’t get a field goal for the last seven minutes of the ball game.”
In their last 12 games, the Warhawks have held their opponents to 61 points or fewer, and the opponents needed overtime to exceed that number in the other two games.
The Warhawks typically employ a zone defense that has given the Cajuns fits at times this season, and the Cajuns particularly struggled against it in their first matchup, going 2-for-18 from 3-point range.
In that game, the Cajuns’ three starting guards combined to go just 5-for-22 from the floor, including an 0-for-6 mark from deep. On the season, the Warhawks are holding opponents to a league-best 37.7 percent from the field.
But the Cajuns might have an ace up their sleeve in sophomore guard Hayward Register, who only played two minutes against the Warhawks but has been logging starters minutes lately.
In his last three games, all starts, Register has connected on 11 of his 22 attempts from 3-point range, averaging just under 12 points per game.
As usual, the Cajuns have relied on big man Shawn Long to provide scoring spark lately. Averaging 17.5 points and 10.3 rebounds per game, Long is the only player in the SBC to average a double-double this season.
The Cajuns can usually count on an advantage with Long’s superior length and skill in the post, but Monroe might be the only team in the league who can come close to matching, with Tylor Ongwae (6-7), Marvin Williams (6-8), and Majok Deng (6-10) all serving as regular starters.
At 14.1 points per game, Ongwae is the Warhawks’ only double-digit scorer, but four other players are averaging 8.5 points or better.
The Cajuns are coming off a disappointing loss to UT-Arlington at home, during which they were outscored 43-24 in the second half. The Cajuns still have time to make a run at the SBC’s regular-season title, and Marlin hopes the last loss sparks something in his team.
“There is a time in every year where something can make a difference,” Marlin said. “We call it a lightning bolt that shocks the team and gets their attention. … Some teams can never get past that, we’ll see what this group can do.”
CAJUNS LADIES LOOK TO AVENGE BIZARRE OT LOSS: The last time the Cajuns (15-7, 7-6) women’s basketball team played Monroe (10-12, 6-7), it looked like it was in good position for its fourth straight SBC win.
Then Monroe caught lightning in a bottle.
Trailing by three with 40 seconds left, Monroe’s Chelsea Tieuel drained a game-tying trey to tie the game. While the ball was in the air, Keke Veal was hit with a foul, sending Christina Gray to the line for two free throws.
She made them both, completing the rare five-point play. The Cajuns would tie the game again, but were blown out 12-5 in the final period.
The Warhawks have won four of six since then, and have caught up in the conference standings after a poor start. They are now one game behind the Cajuns for fifth place.
Sharnice Brooks leads UL-Monroe with 14.1 points per game, and is averaging 15.1 in league play. Jaylyn Gordon (13.8), Kia Wilridge (12.6) and Veal (12.3) are all averaging better than 12 points per game for the Cajuns.