LAFAYETTE — The positive to Louisiana-Lafayette finishing as one of the top four seeds for the Sun Belt Conference men’s basketball tournament is getting a first-round bye and avoiding playing four games in four days.
The negative is that coach Bob Marlin’s team won’t know its opponent for its Friday 5 p.m. quarterfinal until Thursday night.
No. 5 seed Texas-Arlington and No. 8 seed Texas State open tournament play at 5 p.m. Thursday at UNO’s Lakefront Arena, and the Cajuns (19-12) will face the winner.
“We’ll have our scouting reports ready,” Marlin said, “and we’ll have to because they are polar opposites. We’ll be prepared for both teams.”
Only the Cajuns (78.1) and Sun Belt regular-season champion Georgia State averaged more points than UTA (71.9) this season, and the Mavericks’ frenetic pace made them the Sun Belt’s leader in turnovers on the way to 16-14 and 10-10 records.
Texas State (13-16, 7-13), meanwhile, was last in the league offensively (61.9) but gave up fewer points than any team. Only once in nine February games did the Bobcats give up 70 points — exactly that total in a 70-61 home loss to UTA.
“UTA beat them twice,” Marlin said, “but Texas State is very capable. A lot of times in a tournament, the championship can be won in the very first round.”
The Cajuns swept Texas State, rallying for a 72-63 win in San Marcos and running away 64-42 at the Cajundome three weeks ago. UTA ran the Cajuns out of their own gym 84-69 in early February, UL-Lafayette’s worst Sun Belt loss of the season, but the Cajuns took an 81-70 win in Arlington in the third game of their current six-game win streak.
UL-Lafayette won last year’s Sun Belt tournament by winning three games in a 40-hour span. After getting a first-round bye, just like this year, the Cajuns beat UTA in a 91-85 shootout and followed with one-point wins over Western Kentucky and Georgia State.
This year, they’ll have to do the same, with a quick turnaround after Friday’s quarterfinal for a 1 p.m. semifinal battle with Georgia State and a noon Sunday championship game.
“We had a conference call with the tournament directors, and they’ve got a room set up for a players’ lounge at the Hilton Riverside,” Marlin said. “Now when are we going to have time for that? There’s no turnaround time even for practice.”
The Cajuns will follow their exact same schedule as last season, traveling to New Orleans on Thursday after a morning practice. UL-Lafayette went into last year’s tournament with eight wins in their last 10 regular-season games.
“The experience from last year will definitely help us moving forward,” Marlin said. “We feel like we’re peaking at the right time just like last year. We know we’ve been there before, and it helps our guys knowing that we’ve been there.”
The Cajuns committed only six turnovers, three in each half, in Saturday’s 81-57 road thrashing of Arkansas State that ended the regular season. The previous season low was nine in three earlier games.
That also continued a postseason pattern. UL-Lafayette had single-digit turnovers in two of last year’s three Sun Belt tournament games and then had only four turnovers in last season’s 76-66 loss to Creighton in the NCAA tournament.
“That’s a topic of discussion every day we play,” Marlin said. “We have to be better at protecting the basketball. Especially in the postseason you want to give yourself the most opportunities to score.”
Still a question
Former Glen Oaks player Brian Williams, who transferred from Oklahoma State for his senior year, has missed the past four games and hasn’t played since the win over Texas State with an injured shoulder. The 6-foot-5 forward ranks second on the squad at 10.1 points.
“He still looks pretty doubtful,” Marlin said. “He’s still rehabbing. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
The league tournament will be a homecoming for freshman Bryce Washington. The former St. Augustine standout lives only a couple of miles from Lakefront Arena.
Washington (5.6 points, 5.0 rebounds) had eight points and a season-high 12 rebounds Saturday at Arkansas State and has started 10 of UL-Lafayette’s past 11 games.
Fellow freshman Johnathan Stove of Christian Life has also started nine of the Cajuns’ past 11 games and enters the tournament with a 5.1 scoring average. He had 10 points in Saturday’s win as part of a recent UL-Lafayette starting lineup with one junior, two sophomores and two freshmen.
“That’s the reason we brought those guys in,” Marlin said of Washington and Stove. “They’re freshmen, but they don’t play like freshmen. Both of those guys have given us a lot. They and Scott Plaisance (a former Country Day standout who is redshirting) were all out on the court last year congratulating us (at the tournament), and now they’re out there on the floor.”