GAME NOTES: The Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns have made the trek to E.A. Diddle Arena in Bowling Green for Thursday night's Sun Belt Conference showdown with the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.
Louisiana's season has been a disappointing one at 7-12 overall, although it is coming off a strong home win over Arkansas State last Saturday, 61-56. The triumph allowed the Cajuns to improve to 3-5 in Sun Belt play, but they have been terrible outside of Lafayette, going just 1-9 on the road.
WKU was sitting pretty at 8-2 following a Dec. 8 win over IUPUI, but since then it has been trending downward. The Hilltoppers have lost six of their last eight games, including three in a row, to fall to 10-8 overall and 4-3 in conference play. They most recently hosted Florida Atlantic last Saturday and were handed a 65-62 defeat.
Louisiana won the latest matchup against WKU, 72-70, in overtime on Jan. 5, 2012, but the Hilltoppers lead the all-time series, 25-16.
The Cajuns had far from their most impressive offensive showing the last time out, shooting a mere 38.5 percent from the floor and 51.7 percent from the foul line, but they were able to hold Arkansas State below 35 percent shooting on their way to a five-point victory. Shawn Long was outstanding in the frontcourt, tallying 17 points and 16 rebounds, while Elfrid Payton and Kasey Shepherd poured in 13 points apiece. Louisiana has one of the league's most explosive scoring offenses, putting up 71.2 ppg, but its problem has been its ineffectiveness at the defensive end as teams put up a lofty 73.3 ppg. Long has been a nightly double-double threat, ranking third in the league in scoring (15.7 ppg) and second in rebounding (9.8 rpg). Payton is as well- rounded as they come, racking up 14.7 ppg and 6.2 rpg, while ranking first in the league in both assists (5.2 apg) and steals (2.3 spg). Bryant Mbamalu chips in 14.0 ppg, but he will miss Thursday's game with a thumb injury.
WKU trailed by 13 points with under four minutes to play against FAU, and was able to mount a furious comeback to cut the deficit to just one in the final minute, but it could not seal the deal. It was able to keep the game close by shooting 22-of-31 from the foul line, but it was hampered by shooting just 18- of-54 from the field (.333). T.J. Price tallied 20 points with the help of four 3-pointers, but he shot just 5-of-16 overall, while George Fant added 19 points and eight rebounds. The Hilltoppers have been solid, if unspectacular, at both ends of the floor this season, scoring 67.2 ppg while allowing 65.7 ppg. Their struggles of late have been partially due to the loss of Jamal Crook (14.5 ppg, 4.5 apg), who has been out since mid-December with a foot injury, and is expected to miss at least a few more weeks. Price is the leading scorer with 14.7 ppg, while Fant contributes 12.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg and 1.0 bpg.
Louisiana has as good a nucleus as any team in the Sun Belt, but it has been awful on the road, and without Mbamalu, the Cajuns will have a difficult time knocking off the Hilltoppers on their own floor.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Western Kentucky 67, Louisiana 62
01/17 10:37:09 ET
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