UL Defense Key In 67-64 Win Over UTA to Advance in SBC Tournament
The Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns men's basketball team beat the UT-Arlington Mavericks 67-64 to advance to the second round of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.
The eighth seeded Cajuns got off to a great start in the first half and played excellent defense throughout the game in the victory. They got revenge on a Mavericks team that beat them twice in the regular season, and they'll have to do it again when they face the Texas State Bobcats in the quarterfinals. The top team in the league swept the regular season series against the Cajuns, and Louisiana assistant coach Neil Hardin discussed the team's path in the Tournament.
"We talked in the locker room before the game that the last time we won the tournament we played two teams that were 2-0 against us in the regular season in games that we felt like we should have won," Hardin said. "It's no different this time. We lost to Arlington twice and felt like both times we didn't give ourselves the best chance. I thought Texas State was the same way. We will have a great plan in place to try and build on what we did today."
Louisiana was without Third Team All-Sun Belt forward Kobe Julien, as an injury that he suffered in the Georgia State loss at the end of the regular season will keep him out of the Sun Belt Tournament.
The Cajuns got out to a fast start in the opening game of the tournament. The Mavericks hit their first shot with a layup, but Louisiana's defense started smothering them. UT-Arlington missed seven straight shots and went on a five-minute streak without a made field goal. In that time, the Cajun starting guards hit three of four shots, and the team took a 10-3 lead.
Greg Williams Jr. continued his excellent play early on with a three-pointer to answer two free throws by the Mavericks. On the other end, UT-Arlington finally hit their own three.
Kentrell Garnett's three opened up a 12-point, 20-8 lead and gave the Cajuns another 7-0 run. UT-Arlington hit only two of their 14 shot attempts in the first nine minutes of the game while Louisiana started 7-9 from the field and 3-4 from three-point range.
Following the midway point of the first half, both teams struggled from the field with the Cajuns only hitting one of seven shot attempts and the Mavericks going on another three-minute scoring drought by missing five straight. Louisiana forward Theo Akwuba hit a layup and guard Durey Cadwell nailed a three to stretch the Cajun lead to 27-10.
UT-Arlington scored five straight before guard Jalen Dalcourt made his second three of the first half. The Cajuns turned it over on two straight possessions following Dalcourt's shot, and the Mavericks slightly cut into the lead. However, three free throws and another three by Dalcourt gave the Cajuns a 6-0 run, expanding the lead back out to 17 points at 36-19.
Louisiana had a great opportunity to close out the first half and take a commanding lead into the break, but UT-Arlington finished with an 8-0 run in the last two minutes thanks to free throw shooting and Cajun turnovers. Despite dominating the first 20 minutes, Louisiana's lead dwindled to single digits. They went into the locker room up 36-27.
UT-Arlington was only 7-30 from the field and 2-12 from three, but that last run kept them in the game. Despite poor shooting percentages, they were 11-12 from the free throw line. The Cajuns had nine first half turnovers, but they shot 50% from the field and hit six of nine three-point attempts.
Williams finally broke a 12-0 push by the Mavericks three minutes into the second half with a jumper. UT-Arlington diminished Louisiana's lead to four points before Dalcourt drilled a big three. It was his fourth of the game. Three-point shooting continued to be a strength for the Cajuns in the first round matchup.
Following a UT-Arlington three-pointer, Dalcourt hit his fifth three of the game. His team-leading 15th point kept the Cajuns lead at seven points.
Following Dalcourt's fifth three, Louisiana went on a three-minute streak without a made field goal. Forward Dou Gueye broke that with a jumper to make it 49-41 with eight minutes remaining. Two free throws by guard Michael Thomas gave the Cajuns a double-digit lead for the first time in the second half thanks to more quality defense. The Mavericks went on a four-minute scoring drought, but they hit a jumper.
A field goal by Akwuba answered the score to keep Louisiana up by 10. Gueye hit two big free throws, and the first half difference at the charity stripe had disappeared.
Jordan Brown, who had been quiet offensively hit a shot, and Gueye came away with a massive steal with a dunk on the other end. Louisiana's lead expanded to 60-46 with three minutes left, but, with their season on the line, UT-Arlington made one final push.
The Mavericks cut the lead to nine with a 7-2 run, but the Cajuns were aiming to drain the clock. A desperation three went in for UT-Arlington, and Louisiana's lead was only 62-56 with 41 seconds left. They had to do two things: take care of the ball and hit free throws. Garnett did that by hitting two big shots at the charity stripe, but the Cajuns fouled the Mavericks' leading scorer for a three-point play.
Dalcourt split a pair of free throws at the line, but it was a two-possession game with 20 seconds remaining. On the other end, the Cajuns fouled another Maverick on a layup. They missed the free throw that would have cut the lead to one possession, but an offensive rebound set up a layup that could have made it a two-point game. That fell short, and the Cajuns got the rebound and were fouled.
Garnett hit two more free throws, and the Mavericks responded with a three with two seconds left to make it 67-64. A huge turnover by Louisiana on the inbounds pass gave UT-Arlington one final chance, but a desperation three missed and the Cajuns survived.
Louisiana's defense was outstanding. UT-Arlington was only 20-64 from the field for 31% and 7-27 from three-point range for 26%. They had 20 more shot attempts by forcing 16 Cajun turnovers and having seven more offensive rebounds, but Louisiana shot the ball well from the field.
Up next, the Cajuns play the top-seeded Texas State Bobcats in the Sun Belt Tournament quarterfinals on Saturday, March 5th at 11:30 a.m. The Bobcats were 2-0 against Louisiana in the regular season.