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F-I-U (8-20) vs. Western Kentucky (11-18)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, March 3, 9:30 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Summit Arena (6,200) -- Hot Springs, Arkansas. Television: None. Home Record: FIU 2-9, WKU 8-7. Away Record: FIU 5-9, WKU 3-8. Neutral Record: FIU 1-2, WKU 0-3. Conference Record: FIU 5-11, WKU 7-9. Series Record: Western Kentucky leads, 27-4.
GAME NOTES: The first round of the 2012 Sun Belt Conference Tournament continues tonight, as the seventh-seeded Western Kentucky Hilltoppers do battle with the 10th-seeded FIU Golden Panthers, with the winner advancing to play No. 2 seed Arkansas-Little Rock in the quarterfinal round on Sunday.
FIU had a poor season in 2011-12, as it was one of only two teams in the Sun Belt which failed to reach to 10-win plateau (8-20), although it is coming off a narrow win in its regular-season finale against Arkansas State. The squad finished 5-11 in conference, tying it with Troy, but FIU won the tie- breaker to earn the 10th seed. The Golden Panthers are just 7-12 all-time in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.
Western Kentucky also had a luckluster season at 11-18 overall and 7-9 in the league's East Division. It comes into this event with some momentum however, as it captured back-to-back wins to close out the regular season, with its latest victory coming against first-place Middle Tennessee last Saturday, 73-67. With a win tonight, the Hilltoppers will advance to the semifinal round for the 21st time since joining the league back in 1983.
Western Kentucky owns a commanding 27-4 advantage in the all-time series with FIU, although the two teams split the season series this year, with each winning on the road.
The Golden Panthers had the second-worst offense (63.3 ppg) in the league this year, despite having three players earn All-Sun Belt Conference honors. DeJuan Wright leads the league in scoring, putting up 16.4 ppg, and he is coming off a career-high 35 points against South Alabama last Saturday, marking the second-most of any FIU player in the history of U.S. Century Bank Arena. Wright also leads the team in rebounding (7.7 rpg) and was named to the All- SBC Second Team. Jeremy Allen (14.2 ppg, 2.7 spg) and Phil Taylor (13.8 ppg) were both named to the conference's third team. Though FIU has generally struggled from both the floor overall (.417) and from behind the three-point line (.337), it connects on 72.2 percent of its free-throws, which is the second-best mark in the conference.
Western Kentucky has a slightly better offense than FIU (64.5 ppg), though its 39.4 percent shooting from the floor ranks last in the conference. Leading the way for the Hilltoppers is Derrick Gordon with 11.7 ppg and 6.3 rpg, and he was also named to the All-Sun Belt Third Team. Gordon has been playing even better of late, averaging 14.0 points over his last three games. George Fant (9.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and Jamal Crook (9.0 ppg) are also positive contributors to WKU's offensive attack. Crook has been a major key to the team's success in the past two seasons, as it is 17-7 when he dishes out at least four assists. The Hilltoppers have been impressive at the foul line lately, making 42 of their last 48 attempts.
WKU comes into this game with a little bit of momentum, but judging by FIU's last game it seems that its three top scorers have finally figured out how to play together.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: FIU 71, Western Kentucky 68
03/03 10:40:53 ET
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