Here’s a synopsis of the road struggles of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s men’s basketball team so far this season:
Travel across the country, making a first West Coast trip since 2011, and take on the nation’s most storied college basketball program, one that already holds a win over a No. 1 squad this season and is coming off knocking off another nationally ranked team.
It’s not like the Ragin’ Cajuns have played any soft touches in an 0-4 road start, with losses at Miami, Alabama, UL-Monroe and Louisiana Tech, but Tuesday night’s task may be the toughest when the Cajuns (3-4) take on UCLA (7-3) in an 8 p.m. (CST) game at Pauley Pavilion.
The Bruins have won four in a row and broke into the AP poll Monday at No. 22 after a Saturday 71-66 road win at previously 20th-ranked Gonzaga. Included in that win streak is an 87-77 win over then-top-ranked Kentucky on Dec. 3 when UCLA led from the opening seconds.
“They’re a very good basketball team,” said Cajuns coach Bob Marlin, whose squad will also face Pepperdine in Malibu, California, on Friday in the second half of the West Coast trip. “But it’s not about them, it’s about us. We wanted to play a tough schedule, and we’ve got to find a way to have some success on the road.”
UL-Lafayette looked to be on its way to road success in its most recent game away from the Cajundome, holding a 53-43 second-half lead over Louisiana Tech on Saturday in Ruston. That was before the Bulldogs outscored the Cajuns 48-26 in the final 14 minutes on the way to a 91-79 win.
Tech got revenge for two straight losses to the Cajuns by shooting over 55 percent in the second half, committing only three turnovers in the final 20 minutes and making its last 18 free throws. The Bulldogs also held postman Shawn Long to a season-low nine points, after the senior had 24 points and 11 rebounds in 23 minutes in Wednesday’s 97-64 home win over McNeese State.
Marlin was more focused on the defense played by Long and his teammates in Saturday’s second half.
“He (Long) wasn’t as active as he has been, he didn’t seem to have the energy he’s had, especially in the second half,” Marlin said. “He didn’t do what he’s capable of doing obviously. But we didn’t play very well defensively as a team, and that had something to do with that.”
The Tech trio of guards — Alex Hamilton and Dayon Griffin and postman Erik McCree — combined for 77 points on 26-of-43 shooting, with Hamilton bedeviling the Cajuns with 30 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists and three steals.
Now UL-Lafayette will have to face another Hamilton on Tuesday. UCLA junior guard Isaac Hamilton (13.9 points per game) had a team-high 20 points in the win at Gonzaga and has been in double figures in six straight games. He had two 3-pointers in Saturday’s first two minutes.
Bryce Alford, son of UCLA coach Steve Alford, leads the Bruins in scoring and assists (15.9, 5.2) and became the 52nd player in Bruins history to reach 1,000 career points in the Gonzaga win. Tuesday’s game will be notable with both coaches having sons on the roster: Marlin’s son, Matt, is a senior backup guard.
Another backup guard, Kasey Shepherd, came off the bench to score a team-leading 22 points against Tech. It was Shepherd’s third straight strong game against the Bulldogs, after he scored 22 points in a 2013 win in Ruston and 16 in the Cajuns’ 94-86 win over Tech last season.
Shepherd (12.0) is second on the squad in scoring behind Long (18.3), who also ranks 10th nationally in rebounding (11.6) and is the nation’s active leader in both career rebounds (1,117) and double-doubles (56). Even though point guard Jay Wright (10.9) is the only other double-figure scorer, the Cajuns are tied with Kansas for third nationally in scoring (90.0) entering Monday’s games.
Only The Citadel (93.6) and Butler (91.7) are averaging more points than the Cajuns. But UL-Lafayette is also 312th out of 346 Division I teams defensively, giving up 80.6 points per game. The loss in Ruston marked the third time in four road games that the Cajuns’ opposition has topped 90 points.
“Playing 10 of the first 15 on the road is a tough chore,” Marlin said. “I’m not concerned about our offense, but I am concerned about our defense and taking care of the ball. We’ve spent a lot of time on defense, and I’m ready for the results of that to start showing.”