Sure, Louisiana-Lafayette’s men’s basketball team has already played at Ole Miss. The Ragin’ Cajuns also beat Iowa and Richmond during the Cayman Islands Classic, and they still have a date at Clemson three days before Christmas.
But as far as non-conference games go, the one that means the most to long-time Cajun fans comes Tuesday night when UL-Lafayette heads north to face Louisiana Tech’s Bulldogs in what has again become an annual rivalry.
“It’s important for us to play those guys and to play as many games against Louisiana teams as we can,” said Cajuns coach Bob Marlin heading into Tuesday’s 6:30 p.m. game at Tech’s Thomas Assembly Center. “We’ve asked every team in Louisiana to play. Some haven’t wanted to play, so we’re glad that we’ve got a game against an opponent that our fan base recognizes.”
After going several years without regular meetings, facing each other only once between 2008 and 2013, the Cajuns (7-2) and the Bulldogs (7-2) have met in each of the past four seasons — making 128 all-time meetings. UL-Lafayette has won three of those four, including a 91-83 win in Lafayette last season.
Tech won the last meeting in Ruston 91-79 in 2015 — a game the Cajuns led by double digits early — but since then UL-Lafayette has run off 13 straight wins against Louisiana teams. Tuesday’s game against the Bulldogs will be UL-Lafayette’s fourth straight against state squads; that trend continues with Cajuns home games Saturday against UNO and next Tuesday against Southeastern Louisiana.
“We know what these games mean to our fan base,” Marlin said, “but for us, it’s a chance to play a team with a good RPI in a tough place to play.”
The Bulldogs are 80-5 in the past five years at the Thomas Assembly Center. One of those five losses was to the Cajuns, 89-80 in 2013 when the teams resumed play after a five-season absence. Another came less than a week ago, when Stephen F. Austin came to Ruston and left with an 85-83 win that might have surprised many basketball followers.
Marlin wasn’t among the surprised.
“Stephen F. Austin’s got a really good team, and they outplayed them,” Marlin said. “I was recruiting last Thursday night and sat with the SFA coach (former Tech assistant Kyle Keller), and he shared some things with me. They got more offensive rebounds and created more turnovers, and that gave them about 13 more possessions in the game.”
The Cajuns have been able to do that regularly this season, including in their easy 98-56 win over Loyola-New Orleans on Wednesday in their last outing. UL-Lafayette allowed the Wolfpack only three offensive boards, winning that battle 14-3, and forced 20 turnovers for the second time in their four-game win streak.
Six Cajuns players scored nine or more points, part of a balanced offense that is ninth nationally in scoring (91.0). The Bulldogs are also in the top 30 nationally (85.9) and like the Cajuns have four players averaging in double figures, led by the 16.1 average of sophomore guard Jalen Harris.
The Cajuns figure to have second-leading scorer Frank Bartley (15.9) back for Tuesday’s game after the senior guard and Baton Rouge product missed the Loyola game with a sprained ankle. JaKeenan Gant leads the squad at 16.3 points per game, and fellow Baton Rouge product Johnathan Stove is at 15.8.
“He’s been very active for us,” Marlin said of Gant, who leads the Sun Belt Conference in blocked shots (2.44) and field-goal percentage (65.6). “He’s making shots, which he’s capable of doing. I felt like he could score for us, depending on how we played, and he’s going to have a lot of big scoring games for us.”