The excitement for the UL football season is building toward the much-anticipated Sun Belt Conference championship game on Dec. 4 at Cajun Field.

And it should be.

But lost on some during the weekend coach Billy Napier’s program secured home field advantage for the league title game was the Ragin’ Cajuns men’s and women’s basketball teams offering more hope for a great winter sports season.

Both teams started slow and then caught fire down the stretch for big road victories to improve to 2-0.

The men outscored Southern Miss by 15 points in the second half for a 66-45 win in Hattiesburg.

The women used a 32-point outburst in the fourth quarter to knock off Rice.

That game was scheduled to be played in Lafayette, but UL coach Garry Brodhead moved the game to Houston to accommodate the Cajundome hosting the LHSAA state volleyball tournament.

Rice was 23-4 last season and won the Women’s NIT. This was not your everyday road win, probably the athletic department's best win on paper this school year.

“It’s an exciting way to start the season,” Brodhead said. “It’s big for us.”

The Owls are known for being huge and they were. But somehow the Cajuns got scorching hot in the second half to overcome a 42-19 rebounding deficit.

“The matchup was really difficult,” Brodhead said. “Getting outrebounded by 20 and still winning, I would have never thought that.”

The Cajuns shot a staggering 90% from the field in the fourth quarter, including 3-of-4 shooting behind the 3-point arc. The Cajuns also made 11 of 14 free throws after missing 5 of 8 in the first half. Brandi Williams had 24 points on 7-of-9 shooting, followed by Destiny Rice with 12, Ty’Reona Doucet with 12 and Tamera Johnson with 11.

Those four shot a combined 80% from the field for the game.

“All those guards did a good job of taking care of the ball,” Brodhead said. “We’re more offensive-oriented this year. I thought they did a good job of exploiting what we do best. Both games were about pressing and creating turnovers for the other team. I thought we did a good job of doing that.”

Next for the UL women is a game against LSU and new coach Kim Mulkey at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Cajundome.

The men also faced an early game quandary inside.

Southern Miss was doubling Cajuns’ inside duo of Jordan Brown and Theo Akwuba and forcing UL to beat it from the perimeter.

Despite having some success early, the Cajuns finally caught fire in the second half with 37 points to pull away.

“It was a slugfest in the first half,” UL men’s coach Bob Marlin said. “Both teams were going at it.

“Offensively, had trouble putting the ball in the basket, but defensively, we were spot on.”

Greg Williams played 34 quality minutes with 18 points, seven assists, four rebounds and five steals.

UL recorded 15 steals as a team and produced 20 points off turnovers.

Brown added 11 points and nine rebounds, while Akwuba had nine points and eight rebounds.

UL’s defense hasn’t allowed either opponent to score more than 24 points in a half.

“We’ve spent a lot of time on the defensive side of the ball,” Marlin said. “We’ve choked some people down and done a good job with our size and our length on the defensive end.

“More importantly, we’ve made some mistakes, but we’re playing really hard defensively.”

Kobe Julien settled for 10 points in 19 minutes after first-half foul trouble, but most of his damage was during UL’s 28-9 run over the final 9:01.

UL’s men will return home as well, hosting Xavier of New Orleans at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday.

“We’re always getting better,” Marlin said. “There’s always room for improvement. Just be consistent. We’ve got to be in the right rotations … make contact on block-outs. The effort’s been good, and that’s the main thing.”


Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.