LAFAYETTE — Friday was another “thinking” day for Bryce Washington.
UL-Lafayette’s senior postman has spent a lot of time at a nearby park during the spring semester, while he and the Ragin’ Cajuns basketball team were on an historic roll.
“I don’t have early class on Monday, Wednesday and Friday,” Washington said Thursday night after the Cajuns beat Arkansas State 85-74 for a school-record 26th win. “Usually I go to treatment and then go to the park and just think about all the things I’ve done in the last four years.”
Among those things is reaching 1,000 career points, the same as senior teammates Johnathan Stove and Frank Bartley, and that’s not the only bond that threesome will share Saturday night when UL-Lafayette plays its final regular-season home game.
Those three, along with Larenz Stalcup and Jacob Broussard, will be celebrated on Senior Night just before the Cajuns’ 7 p.m. contest against Little Rock. The Cajuns (26-4, 16-1) have already wrapped up the Sun Belt Conference’s outright title and are the winningest team in the program’s history, but the struggling Trojans (6-24, 3-14) shouldn’t expect any letdown or over-celebration by the Cajus squad.
“The 26 wins, the conference championship, that’s just part of the growth I’ve had since I was a freshman,” Washington said. “It was hard to realize at first that you have to bring it every single night. For us not to win like we have this year over those first three years, it took a lot of thinking and a lot of growth. Coach (Bob) Marlin had trust in me and gave me that trust to lead these guys and lead them in the right direction.”
That direction has been nothing but up for a Cajuns squad that now has the fifth-best record in the country and the nation’s second-longest homecourt win streak (17 games). UL-Lafayette has never had an unbeaten home season since moving into the Cajundome in 1985, but they can finish off a 15-0 home season with a win Saturday in their last outing before next week’s Sun Belt tournament in New Orleans.
“It’s going to be emotional,” said Bartley, who went over the 1,000-point mark in a two-year Cajuns career with the ninth of his 18 points Thursday. “Especially for Stove and Bryce, being here all four years and going through the ups and downs. I’ve seen how this program has changed in three years, so it’s going to be real special.
“But we still have to challenge our emotions into the game, focus on Little Rock and accomplish our goal there, and then get ready for New Orleans.”
Those emotions took a hit during a scary moment late in Thursday’s first half, when Stove went to the floor with a leg injury following a rebound battle. He had to be helped to the dressing room but came back in for four minutes of playing time after halftime.
“He’s got a high ankle sprain,” said Marlin, who became the fourth-winningest coach in Cajuns history Thursday. “He’s a tough young man. He didn’t ask to play, our trainer said to play him because he needed to move around. Johnathan always wants to play, you don’t have to ask him. It got pretty quiet when I heard him yell, I as just thankful it wasn’t his knee.”
“Stove’s tough,” Bartley said of his roommate. “He’s going to play Saturday. I don’t know how long he’s going to play, but he’s going to show up on Saturday.”
“Oh, he’s playing,” Washington said.
Stove, Bartley and Washington make up a special trinity. The two former Baton Rouge-Christian Life standouts joined with Washington, a product of St. Augustine in New Orleans, to all reach that 1,000-point mark during the same season. Marlin has had three 1,000-point career scorers on the same team before, but never in the same class. And the fact that all three are south Louisiana products adds to it.
“To get three in one year, in the same class, is really special,” Marlin said. “That says a lot about the makeup of our team and the way we share the ball and play together.”
The Cajuns go into Saturday’s game with a 35 RPI and with a chance at the third-best record in Sun Belt history, not to mention going into the league tournament on a seven-game win streak and with wins in 17 of their past 18 games. But Marlin said Saturday will be about saluting his team’s five seniors.
“It’ll be emotional,” he said. “We still have a lot of work to do. But I love these seniors. They mean a lot to me and this program. They’ve been a foundation and they’ve done a great job of leading on and off the court. I’ve seen them grow and mature and seen them accomplish something very special.”
“It’s a dream come true with these guys, to come out and play every night in front of our families and for them to get to witness our success,” Bartley said. “Everybody’s not able to play Division I basketball, much less this close to home. For us, best friends and roommates, to accomplish this goal together, that’s a huge accomplishment.
“We’re winning and we’re having fun, and we can’t wait to see what’s next for us. We’re excited, but we’re not satisfied with 1,000 points, winning the conference title and going undefeated at home. We’re mature enough to understand what’s at hand.”