LAFAYETTE — The long bus rides to Sun Belt Conference games for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette are over and the Cajuns are on a three-game league winning streak.
UL-Lafayette men’s basketball coach Bob Marlin says there’s no better motivation than that as his team plays the first of three consecutive Sun Belt Conference home games when the Cajuns play Arkansas-Little Rock following a women’s game between the schools that starts at 5 p.m. Thursday.
The Cajuns (15-9, 6-5) began the week in fifth place behind third place UALR (12-12, 7-5) and fourth place Arkansas State, which UL-Lafayette plays Saturday night at the Cajundome.
Playing schools on a home court who are in front of his team in the standings is the ideal situation, Marlin said this week.
“You have the two teams who are right in front of you now and if we can win those games, we will be in third place. It’s going to be a big week for us,” Marlin said.
The Cajuns won both games during a Texas road swing last week.
UL-Lafayette lost a 25-point lead and then came back to defeat Texas-Arlington 92-89 last Thursday and then make some key plays inside the last minute to beat Texas State 67-66.
Both victories in addition to a 66-50 victory over Louisiana-Monroe on Feb. 1 has provided the Cajuns with a spark, said Marlin.
“We’ve certainly gained some momentum. Hopefully that confidence and momentum will continue, but it’s certainly a shot in the arm.
“Those wins gave our guys a feeling that they haven’t had in a long time. We got two tournament-type victories,“ Marlin said about the victories over UTA and TSU.
The Cajuns have seven conference games remaining before the start of the SBC championships scheduled for the Lakefront Arena March 13-16.
Following bus rides to half the Cajuns’ previous conference games, Marlin said there are nothing but plane rights left for the Cajuns’ remaining three SBC road games.
UL-Lafayette’s men’s team confronts a UALR squad that has lost three of the last five games. The Trojans, however, beat the Cajuns’ 80-69 in Little Rock on Jan. 30.
That defeat ironically launched the current UL-Lafayette three-game winning streak.
UALR is outside most of the top five categories in SBC offense and defense, but Marlin said the Trojans have a reputation for playing tough and physical for his close friend, Steve Shields.
Marlin said the Cajuns have also received an offensive lift over the last few games from junior transfer guard Xavian Rimmer, who has entered the starting lineup after averaging 7.8 points a game.
Rimmer, who played at Pearl River Community College last season, is averaging 43 percent on his three point attempts.
Against Texas State Rimmer scored 16 points and added the final point of the game (11.6 seconds) when he sank a three-pointer from the deep corner.
Rimmer gave the Cajuns some help coming off the bench earlier this season, but Marlin said lately Rimmer has been more beneficial than that.
“Xavian has made some big baskets for us lately and his confidence is high right now. We just need to ride that confidence,” Marlin said.
The Cajuns will have to stop UALR forward-center Will Neighbour, who averages 16.7 points and 7.2 rebounds.
Arkansas-Little Rock’s other two offensive threats are Josh Hagins and James White, who are combining for 23 points.
Neighbour scored 24 and added 12 rebounds in the Cajuns’ loss at Little Rock.
UL-Lafayette continues to be led offensively by junior guard Elfrid Payton and sophomore forward Shawn Long leads the league in rebounding (10.9) and second in scoring (20.8) Payton is fourth in scoring (19.7) and lead the SBC in assists (5.8) and steals (2.3).