Even Though UALR had won four of five games and was sitting in first place in the Sun Belt Conference’s West Division, the most dangerous part of their schedule was ahead. In order to keep pace, UALR would need to at least scratch on a four game stretch that included at Arkansas State, home vs. Middle Tennessee and at Florida International and Florida Atlantic.
That the Trojans lost all four games wasn’t a huge surprise. They weren’t favored in any of them. The surprise came in how they lost.
Now the questions about UALR’s offense are lingering as the Trojans host Louisiana-Lafayette at 7:30 p.m. tonight at the Jack Stephens Center. UALR needs a victory and a Western Kentucky loss to clinch a first-round bye in next week’s Sun Belt Tournament. Louisiana-Lafayette needs a win and a WKU loss to keep its hopes alive for a bye.
In those four losses, UALR didn’t top 62 points. The Trojans also didn’t reach 30 points in the first half.
UALR made a dismal 85 of 228 field goals for 37 percent, 17 of 67 three-pointers for 25 percent and made 47 of 80 free throws for 58 percent.
We can talk about rebounding and turnovers – two Trojan issues this season – but unless they make shots it’s going to be a struggle.
Will Neighbour is expected to play with a minor hernia. He was limping around a bit on Saturday against Florida Atlantic. We don’t know the status of Taggart Lockhart, who has been out with a concussion.
There’s only a couple that come into play tonight. If UALR wins and Western Kentucky loses at home to South Alabama, UALR will get a bye. UALR remains alive for the 4 seed only if Florida International loses on the road at Louisiana-Monroe. If UALR loses tonight, it brings other scenarios into play for Saturday.
Guard guards: Florida Atlantic had two very good scoring guards and they lit UALR up on Saturday night. Louisiana-Lafayette brings two more tonight in Elfrid Payton (16.0 ppg) and Bryant Mbamalu (13.8 ppg). The Trojans can’t allow both to go off and expect to win this game. By the way, Payton averaged 27 points last week and was the Sun Belt’s player of the week.
Clear glass: Louisiana-Lafayette, like UALR, isn’t a great rebounding team. The difference is that ULL has one really good rebounder in Shawn Long. Michael Javes, Gus Leeper and Will Neighbour have to limit Long’s putbacks.
Set the alarm: UALR has to bring it from the start tonight. Louisiana-Lafayette has trailed at halftime in 20 of 29 games this season. And UALR can’t afford to dig itself a hole early.
UALR is favored by six points tonight in Las Vegas.
Omni Rankings (16-4): UALR 74, ULL 67
Real Time RPI (22-6): UALR 73, ULL 61
Jeff Sagarin (20-7): UALR 72, ULL 67
The Sports Network (20-7): UALR 73, ULL 69
CBS Sportsline (18-9): UALR 73, ULL 68
BTH Average (19-8): UALR 73.0, ULL 66.4