Western Kentucky (11-9) at South Alabama (9-8)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, January 24, 8:05 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Mitchell Center (10,041) -- Mobile, Alabama. Television: ESPN3.com. Home Record: WKU 8-2, USA 4-3. Away Record: WKU 2-5, USA 5-3. Neutral Record: WKU 1-2, USA 0-2. Conference Record: WKU 5-4, USA 6-3. Series Record: South Alabama leads, 32-29.
GAME NOTES: The South Alabama Jaguars entertain the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers in a Sun Belt Conference matchup on Thursday night at the Mitchell Center in Mobile.
WKU started the season rather promising, and following a 70-64 win over North Texas on Dec. 29, it was a perfect 4-0 in conference play. Since the new year however, the Hilltoppers have gone south in a hurry with losses in four of five contests. They fell at home to Arkansas-Little Rock last Saturday, 59-54, to slip to 11-9 overall and 5-4 in conference.
South Alabama's season has been up-and-down to the say the least, especially in recent weeks as it has alternated wins and losses in each of the last seven games. The Jaguars hosted ULM in their latest bout and came away with a 71-56 win to move to above .500 at 9-8, and at 6-3 in league play, they sit in second place in the Sun Belt's Eastern Division behind Middle Tennessee (8-1).
The Jaguars won the latest meeting between these Sun Belt Eastern Division rivals, 66-61, on Feb. 18, 2012, to take a 32-29 lead in the all-time series.
WKU had one of its worst offensive showings of the year in the 54-point effort last Saturday against UALR, shooting just 16-of-49 from the field (.327) while committing 18 turnovers. The outcome could have been much worse had it not been for Brandon Harris, who shot 6-of-11 from 3-point range for a game-high 22 points in a performance that helped earn him Sun Belt Conference Player of the Week honors. George Fant was the only other Hilltopper to reach double figures with 13 points. On the season, WKU sports the third-best scoring defense in the league (64.5 ppg), but it is oftentimes let down by an uninspiring offensive attack (.422 FG percentage, 66.8 ppg). Its scoring output has been especially sour since Jamal Crook (14.5 ppg, 4.5 ppg) went down with a foot injury in mid-December. In Crook's absence, T.J. Price has stepped up as the unit's go-to guy with 14.1 ppg. Fant (12.0 ppg) and Harris (8.8 ppg) have both been active on the boards, grabbing 6.3 and 6.6 rpg, respectively, for a team that ranks second in the league in rebounding margin (+5.2).
After the first half ended in a 27-27 tie, South Alabama was able to pull away after intermission for the 15-point victory behind 62.5 percent shooting in the period. It was another day at the office for Augustine Rubit, who shot 8- of-15 from the field and 7-of-8 from the foul line for 23 points, while adding nine rebounds for good measure. Rubit is arguably the Sun Belt's most imposing force, as he ranks second in scoring (19.5 ppg), first in rebounding (10.8 rpg), and fifth in blocks (1.4 bpg). He is also an outstanding free throw shooter for a big man (.792). Freddie Goldstein was also impressive in the Jaguars' latest win, shooting 5-of-10 from 3-point range for 16 points, while Mychal Ammons and Antoine Allen both tallied 10 points. Ammons is a strong complement to Rubit in the USA frontcourt, tallying 11.1 ppg and 7.4 rpg. Goldstein (8.4 ppg) and Allen (8.3 ppg) are inconsistent out on the perimeter, as the two have combined for 50 3-pointers but at just a 28.9 percent clip. As a team, South Alabama owns the league's strongest scoring offense at 70.6 ppg, which helps make up for its eighth-ranked scoring defense (68.9 ppg).
South Alabama's foundation in the low post can match any team in the Sun Belt, and in front of the hometown faithful, expect the Jaguars to knock off the struggling Hilltoppers.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: South Alabama 71, Western Kentucky 64
01/24 10:34:59 ET