ULM (4-22) vs. Western Kentucky (16-15)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Friday, March 8, 7 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Summit Arena (6,200) -- Hot Springs, Arkansas. Television: Sun Belt Network. Home Record: ULM 3-9, WKU 11-4. Away Record: ULM 1-13, WKU 4-9. Neutral Record: ULM 0-0, WKU 1-2. Conference Record: ULM 3-17, WKU 10-10. Series Record: Western Kentucky leads, 9-1.
GAME NOTES: The first round of the 2013 Sun Belt Conference Tournament tips off on Friday night, as the sixth-seeded Western Kentucky Hilltoppers take on the 11th-seeded ULM Warhawks at Summit Arena in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
The winner of this matchup will advance to the quarterfinals to play No. 3 seed South Alabama on Saturday.
For the second consecutive season, ULM finished in last place in the league, going just 3-17 in conference and a meager 4-22 overall. The Warhawks are sliding into the tournament on a five-game losing streak, which includes a 71-63 setback at home to Louisiana in the regular-season finale last Saturday.
WKU, which won this tournament a season ago, has had plenty of peaks and valleys this year en route to a 16-15 overall record and a .500 mark in conference (10-10). The Hilltoppers started to build up some momentum at season's end with three straight wins before dropping their finale versus first-place Middle Tennessee last Saturday, 70-62.
WKU swept the season series from ULM, most recently winning 75-57 in Bowling Green on Feb. 21, to extend its lead in the all-time series to a stellar 9-1.
The Warhawks had yet another letdown on Senior Day, closing out the regular season by shooting less than 40 percent from the field and less than 60 percent from the foul line in the eight-point loss to rival Louisiana. Amos Olatayo was impressive in defeat, logging 21 points, eight rebounds and four steals, while Jayon James and Trent Mackey tallied 12 points apiece. In averaging just 60.0 ppg and allowing 72.5 ppg, ULM's scoring margin of -12.5 ranks last in the league by a fairly wide margin, and it also puts up SBC-lows in free-throw percentage (.580), field goal percentage defense (.465) and rebounding margin (-5.3). Olatayo has pieced together a strong season with 16.1 ppg and 5.8, while Trent Mackey pours in 11.1 ppg on nearly 44 percent 3- point shooting. Jayon James stuffs the stat sheet with 9.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg and 5.0 apg, but he is also plagued by nearly five turnovers per outing.
The Hilltoppers held a four-point lead midway through the second half against Middle Tennessee last time out, but they let that advantage slip away down the stretch as they were saddled with the eight-point loss. Pacing the 42.3 percent field goal shooting effort was George Fant, who scored 18 points on 7- of-14 from the floor. T.J. Price had 14 points and Jamal Crook put up 10, but the two combined to shoot just 8-of-25 from the field. On the season, WKU wades in the middle of the Sun Belt pack in both scoring offense (67.5 ppg) and scoring defense (66.5 ppg), and while its numbers may seem rather modest, its +1.0 scoring margin is good enough for fourth in the league. T.J. Price (14.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.0 spg) was named to the All-SBC Second Team, while Fant (12.8 ppg, 6.7 rpg) and Crook (12.7 ppg, 4.4 apg, 1.6 spg) are also having strong seasons.
While ULM has some talented individual pieces that would suggest it is a better squad than its woeful record would indicate, it has shown no signs of turning things around at all. WKU might not be the championship-caliber squad is was a year ago, but it's still plenty good enough to dismiss the flightless Warhawks.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Western Kentucky 73, ULM 61
03/08 10:35:06 ET