Calling the second of an 18-game Sun Belt Conference basketball schedule must-win seems a bit silly. Yet, here UALR is as the Trojans (6-7, 1-0) take on Texas-Arlington (5-8, 0-1) at 5 p.m. tonight in Arlington, Texas.
While there’s no way this game could be considered on anybody’s “must-win” list, it could be a tone-setter if UALR hopes to contend for the Sun Belt Conference championship.
First, it’s a chance to get the overall season record to .500 for the season. That is big, even if just for public perception. It would also be the fifth win the in the past six games for UALR. A win here would send them surging into next Thursday's home clash with South Alabama.
Second, it’s a chance to start Sun Belt Conference play 2-0 with a pair of road victories. UALR’s teams that have been able to win early conference road games have gone on to finish near the top of the standings.
Third, if it happens it will be against a hungry Texas-Arlington team with its back against the wall. That will make the Mavericks as difficult to overcome as anything. UTA can’t afford to drop its first two home Sun Belt games and hope to stay in the race.
Splitting on this road trip was the “must” for UALR. The Trojans have already secured that. But when you win the first, you have to be hungry for more than a split. Tonight we find out if they have the wherewithal to jump feet first into the title chase.
Splitting this Texas road trip won't accomplish that.
The UTA-based Maverick Rambler (www.themaverickrambler.blogspot.com) put out its Sun Belt Conference predictions this week. They aren’t high on UALR or Will Neighbour. They pick UALR seventh, calling the Trojans “the biggest disappointment in nonconference play.” They were “underwhelmed by senior forward Will Neighbour, who was billed as a top player in the conference.” They also panned UALR for having only two top 20 scorers in the Sun Belt, noting UTA had “three in the top 18.” We’re guessing that was before UTA got ripped by Arkansas State in their Sun Belt opener on Thursday. Read more at: http://www.themaverickrambler.blogspot.com/2014/01/basketball-conference-predictions.html.
Still no idea if UALR sophomore James White will play tonight vs. Texas-Arlington. White rolled an ankle in Thursday’s victory at Texas State. He was unable to practice Friday afternoon in Arlington, Texas. His availability tonight will likely be determined by whether he can go in today’s shoot-around.
KING PRIAM’S KEYS
Stifle The Energy: UTA got steamrolled in the second half of Thursday’s loss to Arkansas State (24-2 run by the Red Wolves). Coach Scott Cross talked about having more energy for 40 minutes tonight. Expect UTA to try and crank it up. UALR needs to stick around early.
Control the Pace: The higher scoring the game the more Texas-Arlington likes it. The Mavericks are 1-5 when they score 79 or fewer points. They are 4-3 when reaching 80.
Clean the Glass: UALR is 6-2 when it outrebounds its opponents this year. For those scoring at home, that’s 0-5 when getting outrebounded. UALR can’t get beat on the glass and expect to win.
WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS
Perhaps it’s because of the uncertainty surrounding James White’s availability today but it was a bit surprising to see Texas-Arlington a 5.5-point favorite. In fact, we’ve even seen Texas-Arlington as a seven-point favorite. This coming off UTA’s getting shellacked by Arkansas State on Thursday.