On paper, the UL men’s and women’s basketball teams enjoyed similar fates in their first experience with the new Sun Belt Conference weekend series scheduling this past weekend.
Both finished the weekend 1-1 to begin the league schedule.
The road to splitting, though, took two very different paths.
Coach Bob Marlin’s men won the opener Friday in overtime, before struggling defensively down the stretch in the second game for a 71-59 loss.
In Friday’s Sun Belt Conference-opening win over Texas State, the UL Ragin’ Cajuns got a big scoring night off the bench from Devin Butts with…
“Our defense was good in the first half, and in the second half, our defense was left in the locker room,” said Marlin, who watched Texas State shoot 75% from the field in the second half Saturday.
Meanwhile, coach Garry Brodhead’s women overcame a disappointing opener by upping the defensive pressure in the second game for a dominating 67-41 win.
“On Saturday, we made some adjustments,” he explained. “We wanted to make it a full-court game. We pressed and it kind of worked to our advantage. I was really excited about the improvement from one night to the next.”
So how sustainable is being able to play with more energy on Saturday from here on out in league play?
“I don’t know,” Brodhead said. “I can’t tell you. Practice looked good today. Usually, a Monday practice is not good for us, but it was really good. We didn’t keep them very long, but we went hard.”
It’s likely a question men’s and women’s coaches and players throughout the Sun Belt are asking themselves this week.
One day made a huge difference for the UL women’s basketball team in its weekend road series against Texas State.
Other than one series canceled because of COVID-19 concerns, every women’s league series was split this past weekend.
On the men’s side, all three series on the East side were split. In the West, Little Rock swept UTA and ULM won both over Arkansas State.
“It’ll be different,” Marlin said. “Both ways, the endurance is important. Conditioning is an important part of it. You need to work the guys hard. We have some guys who have been nicked up and had some knee issues, so we don’t want to overwork them, but they need to prepare to come in and play quality minutes.
“There’s going to be mental part to it and also some mental toughness where you just have to be physically strong and come back and condition mentally to take care of the second game.”
If you listened to UL senior guard Cedric Russell, who was battling a turf toe injury after Saturday’s game, fatigue played a role in the Cajuns’ second-half decline.
With that said, playing more players may not be the easy solution. Some teams theoretically with shorter rotations performed well.
“It does change your rotation,” Marlin said. “You have to decide how you’re going to go about it.
“We were talking about that as a staff today. If you look at Texas State, they had a small rotation. They only had one guard and two bigs coming off the bench and I think it helped them. The way they played was to their advantage.”
But Marlin said he doesn’t question his staff’s pre-weekend strategy.
For the ninth straight season, the UL women's basketball team opened Sun Belt Conference play on the road and it didn’t go well for the sixth …
“We had a nice plan in place,” Marlin contended. “We had the most rest according to our whoop (monitor) scores on Thursday and Friday that we’ve ever had. So the guys had plenty of sleep. They were well-rested. They were well-hydrated. We stretched in between games. They really worked on that. It’s a learning experience.”
Brodhead said the women's team simply attacked its Game 1 problems beginning with Saturday’s shoot-around.
“All we pretty much did was work on trapping the ball screens, which they did a lot of, instead of switching,” he explain said. “We really didn’t trap that much, but it created a faster, better defensive team — a more aggressive defensive team — even though it wasn’t exactly the traps.
“Then we pressed the whole game. We made some steals. We scored 27 points off turnovers. That was pretty big for us.”
Brodhead, however, believes there could be a mental aspect to all the split, especially if it becomes a season-long trend through the league.
“I think it’s just young men and women nowadays,” said Brodhead, who added that many teams play to the perceived level of their competition.
The UL Ragin’ Cajuns withstood a Texas State 3-pointer just before the end of regulation to win their Sun Belt Conference opener with an 83-77…
“Like for us, I’m sure Texas State might have took us lightly Saturday too. Beat a team by 10 or 15 and it’s just the next night and you think you’re going to be able to do it again and I don’t think that’s going to be the case.”
Brodhead also suggested teams that lose the first game tend to play harder the next day.
“It may be even worse now,” Brodhead said. “We celebrate a lot. We celebrate a lot when we make shots. I thought you were supposed to do that? I see that all the time. You over-celebrate on a win one night and then the next night, you have to go do it again … and the celebration is over.”