Arkansas-Little Rock (17-14) vs. FIU (16-13)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, March 9, 7 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Convention Center Court (8,000) -- Hot Spring, Arkansas. Television: Sun Belt Network. Home Record: UALR 13-3, FIU 10-3. Away Record: UALR 3-10, FIU 6-10. Neutral Record: UALR 1-1, FIU 0-0. Conference Record: UALR 11-9, FIU 11-9. Series Record: Arkansas-Little Rock leads, 17-9.
GAME NOTES: The fifth-seeded Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans and the fourth- seeded FIU Panthers will square off at Convention Center Court on Saturday night in the quarterfinal round of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.
The winner will advance to Sunday's semifinals to face either Middle Tennessee or Louisiana.
For much of the season, UALR was neck-and-neck with Arkansas State for the SBC West Division lead, but it quickly fell out of that race following a four-game losing streak in February. The Trojans were able to salvage things at the end of the regular season with back-to-back wins, most recently over ASU last Saturday (78-71), to move to 17-14 overall and finish 11-9 in the league.
After a disappointing 2011-12 campaign (8-21, 5-11 Sun Belt), FIU more than doubled its overall win total (17-14) and went 11-9 in conference to earn the fourth seed. The Panthers had been winners of three straight before heading into their season finale against Florida Atlantic, but the run came to an end with a 77-60 defeat.
The two teams split the season series this year, with each winning on its home floor by double-digits. UALR leads the all-time series, 17-9.
Even though it trailed at the half to its intrastate rival, UALR was able to take control of its latest game against ASU by shooting 13-of-28 from the field and 16-of-20 from the foul line in the final 20 minutes to capture the seven-point win. John Gillon was especially busy from the stripe (15-of-18) on his way to a career-high 24 points, while Leroy Isler chipped in 13 points in the winning effort. On the season, UALR has failed to stand out at either the offensive (66.9 ppg) or defensive (66.5 ppg) end of the court, but it is one of just five teams in the league with a positive scoring margin (+0.4). Will Neighbour is rock-solid across the board with 10.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg and more than a block and a steal per game, which allowed him to earn Second Team All-SBC honors. Gillon is hot on Neighbour's heels for the scoring lead with 10.4 ppg.
FIU came out with a disappointing effort in the regular-season finale against FAU, getting outshot from the field in the 17-point loss, 50 percent to 37 percent. Malik Smith poured in 18 points in the setback but did so on a lackluster night from the floor (5-of-15). Tymell Murphy was the only other player to reach double figures with 10 points. It was a rare effort for the Panthers, who are usually one of the conference's best offensive teams with an average of 69.6 ppg. Tymell Murphy was named to the First Team All-SBC by scoring 15.1 ppg (on a league-best .588 field goal percentage) while adding team-bests 6.9 rpg, 1.8 spg and 1.1 bpg. Smith is the team's top perimeter threat with 13.7 ppg, but his field goal percentage (.352) has been less than desirable. Frink has been strong in the paint during his freshman campaign with 10.4 ppg and 6.2 rpg.
These teams played each other evenly in the season series, making this a difficult one to project on a neutral floor. Murphy versus Neighbour in the low post will be the matchup to watch, but FIU gets the edge thanks to the higher likelihood of it getting hot from the field.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: FIU 70, Arkansas-Little Rock 67
03/09 10:41:21 ET