When the Ragin’ Cajuns visit Prather Coliseum on Saturday, the correct mixture of aggression and caution will be a critical component.
The Louisiana-Lafayette men’s basketball squad (6-4), coming off three straight home-court wins, will face Northwestern State (3-5) at 3 p.m. in its final nonconference contest of the season.
“They push the ball and press a lot the whole game,” Cajuns senior guard Xavian Rimmer said. “We have to beat the press and take care of the ball.”
Rimmer made five 3-pointers and scored 20 points when the teams met last year at the Cajundome, a 105-74 victory for the Cajuns.
“We shot pretty well,” Rimmer said. “(Ex-Cajuns point guard Elfrid) Payton broke the press, and I was able to spot up (in 3-point range).”
Getting that kind of team shooting performance again would be beneficial for the Cajuns ... on defense.
“The first part of defensive transition is taking good shots,” coach Bob Marlin said.
Making the Demons inbound the ball after made baskets is one way to slow the Demons’ guard tandem of Jalan West and Zeek Woodley. Woodley is averaging 23.8 points, fourth-most in the nation. West is handing out 8.4 assists per game, which leads the country.
“West and Woodley have great speed, and they pitch the ball ahead,” Marlin said. “Both teams play fast.”
The Cajuns started fast in both of their past two games, putting up 115 points each time out in victories against Centenary and Milligan. Now the challenge is to take that efficiency on the road to an arena Marlin visited many times as coach at Sam Houston State from 1998-2010.
“It’s always good when you play a team from the past with the same style and coaching staff,” Marlin said. “But I don’t remember it ever being comforting going to Prather.”
One challenge that Demons coach Mike McConathy frequently throws at opponents is using large-scale substitutions — bringing in a wave of five fresh players from the bench.
“We tell our guys to be aware of mass substitutions,” Marlin said. “You always have to be aware who you are guarding. ... It’s ‘Play as hard as you can for 4 to 6 minutes,’ and it brings energy to the court.”
The Demons will be tasked with countering the energy of Cajuns forward Shawn Long, who is averaging 16.0 points and 8.0 rebounds. Demons senior center Marvin Frazier (6-foot-9) likely will be the primary defender assigned to Long.
All of Northwestern State’s victories are against non-Division I teams: Lyon, LSU-Alexandria and Missouri Valley.
“We jumped on them pretty good early in the game last year,” Marlin said. “Just like McNeese did (avenging last year’s loss with an 80-70 win in Lake Charles on Dec. 6), they will want to even the score.”