Sports

Nov 21, 2012 4:29 PM by UL Sports Information

Cajuns Basketball Returns Home To Host SUNO

SETTING THE SCENE: Louisiana returns home for the second time in the 2012-13 season, hosting Southern University of New Orleans on Wednesday, Nov. 21 beginning at 7:00 p.m. in the Cajundome. The Cajuns slipped to 1-2 on the year when Louisiana dropped both ends of a road trip, falling 74-71 in overtime at Texas Southern on Friday (Nov. 16) and 63-57 at Boise State on Sunday (Nov. 18). After Wednesday's game, Louisiana heads back on the road, playing at New Mexico State on Friday (Nov. 23) and No. 15 Michigan State on Sunday (Nov. 25). SUNO has opened the season with wins over Spring Hill (Ala.), (83-46) and Loyola, La. (78-70). The Knights went 17-13 last season.

PREVIEWING LOUISIANA: With a lineup featuring six freshmen and four sophomores, third year head coach Bob Marlin is excited about the possibilities for the 2012-13 season, knowing that the team that takes the court in November will grow and improve all season. As the new faces get acclimated to the collegiate game, the Cajuns will lean heavily on junior Bryant Mbamalu (14.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.3 apg) and sophomore sensation Elfrid Payton (13.7, 5.7, 5.7). Guard Alan-Michael Thompson (7.0 ppg), the lone senior on the squad, should also play an increased role this year. Freshman forward Shawn Long (12.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg), a transfer from Mississippi State, and power forward Elridge Moore (7.0, 3.7, 2.3 steals), a JC transfer from Lamar State, will unite to form the nucleus of the inside game with freshmen Matthew Moss (1.0, 1.0), Cornell Barnett (1.0 ppg) and walk-on Braylan Lazare (2.0, 2.3) providing the depth inside. Although Payton, Mbamalu and Thompson will provide the athleticism, quickness and leadership, the trio of Tulane transfer Kevin Brown (6.0 ppg) and freshmen Kasey Shepherd (3.0) and Steven Wronkoski (6.0) will also contribute, giving Louisiana one of the deepest backcourts in the Sun Belt. Marlin wants to utilize the depth and quickness by forcing an up-tempo game at both ends of the court by applying more defensive pressure. Look for the Cajuns to use their quickness and outside shooting ability to create a balanced offense, forcing opponents to cover the entire court.

CAJUNS ADD TWO FOR 2013-14: Hours before the Cajuns tipped off with Texas Southern on Nov. 16, head coach Bob Marlin announced the signing of high school standouts Kimani Jackson (Arlington, TX/Seguin) and Hayward Register (Lafayette, La./Comeaux) to National Letters of Intent to attend Louisiana and play basketball starting next fall. Jackson, a 6-7, 220-pound forward, was a pre-season all-league selection this year. Ranked as the No. 88 player in the State of Texas by TexasHoops.com, he is averaging 11 points, nine rebounds, three assists and 1.8 blocks this season at Arlington's Seguin High. Register, a 6-2, 170-pound shooting guard, earned second team all-state honors a year ago after averaging 20.1 points and 5.6 rebounds a game, helping Comeaux High to a 23-11 record. He was named the 2011-12 All-Acadiana MVP by the Lafayette Daily Advertiser. "This is a very good start to our recruiting effort for the year. They both should fit into our system well" Louisiana head coach Bob Marlin said.

AT HOME IN THE 'DOME: Louisiana has turned in a 31-13 record at the Cajundome since the 2009-10 season, which includes an impressive 21-4 mark against Sun Belt opponents. The Ragin' Cajuns are 21-9 (12-4 SBC) in the three seasons under Bob Marlin. Winning at home is nothing new as Louisiana has recorded a winning record in 25 of the 27 seasons since the Cajundome opened its doors in the 1985-86 season. The Cajuns are currently on a string of 17 consecutive seasons with a .500 mark or better at the Cajundome. Louisiana is 259-107 in games played in the Cajundome.

. . . AND CAJUNS TRY TO REACH 2-0 AT HOME: A win over SUNO on Wednesday would allow the Cajuns to claim back-to-back wins at home to open a season for the first time since 2003-04.

FIRST TIME SUCCESS: The Cajuns will be trying to make it a perfect two-for-two against first time opponents this year when SUNO visits the Cajundome. Louisiana opened the year with a 90-79 win over Oakland, the only other first time opponent on the schedule. Despite their reasonably close proximity to Lafayette, the Cajuns and Knights have never met on the hardwood.

. . . AND THERE IS NO PLACE LIKE HOME: After averaging 64.0 points in road losses at Texas Southern (74-71) and Boise State (63-57), the Cajuns will be happy to get back to the Cajundome where they have thrived offensively this year. In the two games in the ‘Dome this year, Louisiana has averaged 91.0 points a game, claiming a 92-72 exhibition win over Loyola-New Orleans and upending Oakland, 90-79. In the two games, the Cajuns have shot .544 from the field (68-125) and .471 from three-point (24-51), forcing 35 turnovers and handing out 35 assists.

GOING OVERTIME: The loss to Texas Southern marked the ninth time that the Cajuns have played to overtime under head coach Bob Marlin. Louisiana is now 6-3 in overtime games during that span, including a 4-1 record last season.

CAJUNS HAVE NO PROBLEM WITH (RECRUITING) HOUSTON: The Cajuns have made Houston one of their recruiting hot spots with three members from the city. Starters Bryant Mbamalu (Dulles HS) and Kevin Brown (Alief Elsik HS) and reserve guard Kasey Shepherd (Dekaney HS) have combined to average 23.0 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. The Cajuns made the first of two trips to Houston last week with Mbamalu scoring 18 points with six rebounds and Brown adding nine points and four boards in an overtime loss to Texas Southern. Louisiana will be back in a month, playing at Houston on Dec. 15.

THE BREAKOUT CONTINUES: Known primarily for his defense during his first season-and-a-half with the Cajuns, Bryant Mbamalu emerged as an offensive threat late in the 2011-12 season. Over the final 12 games, Mbamalu averaged 9.8 points a game with five double figure efforts, including a career-high 27 at Troy. The junior guard has started 2012-13 with double digit efforts in two of the first three games, scoring 15 vs. Oakland and 18 at Texas Southern to lead the Cajuns averaging 14.0 points a game.

TAKING ADVANTAGE OF CHARITY: Bob Marlin said during the preseason that one area in which Louisiana would definitely show improvement is at the foul line, where the Cajuns shot just .631 (483-766) last year. So far, that prediction has come true as Louisiana has shot 70-percent or better from the line in two of the three games, entering the week having gone 36-for-51 (.706). The last time that the Cajuns shot above 70-percent for an entire season came 20 seasons ago (1993-94) when they went 463-for-647 (.716).

. . . ESPECIALLY LATE: The free throw shooting by the Cajuns has been at its best late in the game as Louisiana has gone 13-for-18 (.722) from the line in the final 5:00 minutes of game and overtime. That is a considerable improvement from the .617 (121-196) performance during the 2011-12 season. Bryant Mbamalu, a career .758 shooter in the final 5:00 (25-33), leads the team making all four attempts this year.

PAYTON FINDS THE RANGE: One statistic that stood out on an otherwise glowing report card for Elfrid Payton in 2011-12 was three-point shooting. Payton missed all eight three-point attempts during the year, finishing the year with just one attempt in the last 11 games. Payton has put an end to that streak this year, making a three-pointer in each of the first three games (3-for-8 overall, .375).

. . . AND PAYTON WASN'T THE ONLY ONE TO STRUGGLE: A quick check of the freshman statistics for Bryant Mbamalu will show that the talented guard, like Payton did a year ago, struggled from long range, going just 1-for-14 from three-point (.071). Mbamalu improved significantly to 19-for-49 (.388) last year and has made four treys in the first three games this year.

. . . BUT NO STRUGGLES FOR BROWN: Sophomore Kevin Brown earned his first career start at Texas Southern, scoring nine points with four rebounds. The Tulane transfer has excelled from long range, making four of his nine three-point attempts (.444).

MAKING THE GRADE: One thing that head coach Bob Marlin has emphasized in his three seasons at Louisiana is the necessity that his players give 100% both on and off the court. This demand has led to positive results in the classroom. During the spring 2012 semester, the Ragin' Cajuns recorded their third straight semester with a team GPA of better than 2.50, a feat accomplished just one other time since 1982. The last three semesters account for three of the top six terms for the basketball team during that time. In the two semesters last year, seven Cajuns posted a 3.0 GPA or better.

MISTER CAN YOU SPARE A DIME?: Elfrid Payton showed his continued development as the Cajuns' point guard by handing out 17 assists in the first three games to rank second in the Sun Belt averaging 5.7 assists per game. He had eight assists in the season opener against Oakland, which was one short of his career high of nine set against North Texas in the Sun Belt Championship last year.

. . . AND PAYTON FLIRTS WITH A TRIPLE-DOUBLE: Sophomore guard Elfrid Payton has come into his own as a playmaker, showing the all-around skills to be capable of recording the first triple-double by a Cajun since the 2005-06 season. In the Sun Belt Championship opening round game against North Texas last year, Payton scored 13 points with eight rebounds and nine assists. In the season opener against Oakland, Payton had four points, five rebounds and five assists at halftime, finishing with 14 points with five rebounds and eight assists.

IT WAS A LONG TIME COMING: The exhibition win over Loyola-New Orleans marked the Cajuns debut for forward Shawn Long. Long transferred to Louisiana last December after spending the fall semester at Mississippi State. The 6-9 native of Morgan City, La. practiced with the Cajuns during the final three months of the year but was not eligible to play. During the summer, he was granted a waiver of transfer rule that would have made him ineligible until early December, allowing him to play immediately. Eager to make up for the lost season, Long scored 11 of UL's first 18 points against Loyola, finishing the night with 17 points and a game-high eight rebounds, going seven-for-11 from the field with a pair of blocks. Long came back against Oakland to score 14 points with a game-high six rebounds.

. . . AND LONG HASN'T SLOWED: Shawn Long's steady play has allowed the freshman to lead the Cajuns in rebounding (7.3) and blocks (2.0) while being third in scoring (12.7 ppg). He posted his first career double-double against Texas Southern on Nov. 16, scoring 20 points with 13 rebounds.

MORE MOORE: Junior forward Elridge Moore made his Cajuns debut a memorable one against Oakland on Nov. 10, sharing the team scoring lead with 15 points while adding five rebounds, five steals and a pair of blocks. Moore, who played one season at Nicholls State before transferring to Lamar State last season, missed just two shots in the game, going six-for-seven from the field and three-for-four from the line. A 6-5 forward from New Orleans, Moore is averaging 7.0 points a game, shooting .563 from the field (9-16) with a team-high seven steals.

TURNING UP THE TEMPERATURE: Bob Marlin said all pre-season that the Cajuns would take advantage of the quickness that the squad has this year by applying more pressure. The initial returns have been good as Louisiana forced 47 turnovers in the first three games (15.7/game), turning those miscues into a 40-30 advantage in points off turnovers. The Cajuns are averaging 8.0 steals a game, including a season-high 12 in the opener against Oakland.

. . . CAJUNS FEATURE LONG RANGE BALANCE: Through the first three games of the regular season, the Cajuns have five players who are averaging at least one three-pointer a game, including two who have made at least one trey in all three games. Kevin Brown (4-9, .444) and Bryant Mbamalu (4-15) share the team lead with four treys while Steve Wronkoski (3-6, .500), Elfrid Payton (3-8, .375) and Alan-Michael Thompson (3-11) each have three treys.

SOTO AWAITS DECISION: Freshman guard Josh Soto is out indefinitely as he awaits a ruling from the NCAA on whether a course he took as a freshman in San Juan, Puerto Rico allow him to meet the NCAA initial eligibility guidelines. The NCAA has already approved a waiver allowing him to be on scholarship and practice with the team. No time table on a decision regarding his eligibility is available.

RAGIN' CAJUNS CELEBRATE 100TH SEASON: The Cajuns are celebrating the 100th season of basketball during the 2012-13 season. The first season was in 1911-12 when the Cajuns posted a 4-1 record. Louisiana has gone on to win 20 or more games 21 times since, entering the year with a 1,296-984 overall record. Louisiana did not have a team in either 1973-74 or 1974-75 because of NCAA sanctions. In the first 99 seasons, the Cajuns have advanced to postseason play 18 times, including 10 NCAA Tournament appearances, winning 16 conference titles. Eight UL players have earned All-America honors with 94 being named all-conference.

REBOUNDERS CLUB TO MEET: The third meeting of the Rebounders Club, a group of supporters of the Ragin' Cajuns basketball team, will be held on Tuesday (Nov. 27) beginning at 6:30 p.m. at the Petroleum Club (111 Heymann). Information on becoming a Rebounds Club member is available by contacting Karren Hays at (337) 988-4557.

NEXT UP: The Cajuns head back out on the road, playing road games at New Mexico State (Fri., Nov. 23) and Michigan State (Sun., Nov. 25). Louisiana is not home again until it opens the Sun Belt season against Middle Tennessee on Thursday, Nov. 29 beginning at 7:00 p.m. in the Cajundome.

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