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Men’s Basketball: Cajuns climbing SBC ladder – Defense improves in 5-game win streak

Tim Buckley, Daily Advertiser, Feb.18, 2014

If it seems like a while ago that the UL basketball team was mired in a three-game losing streak, perhaps it’s because it was.

It was in late January that the Ragin’ Cajuns dropped a pair at home to Georgia State and Western Kentucky, then went to Arkansas-Little Rock and lost there with big man Shawn Long suspended for the game for disciplinary reasons.

Since then, however, the 17-9 Cajuns have been on a roll that they’d like to keep going when Troy visits the Cajundome on Thursday night for the final outing in a three-game homestand.

UL has won a season-high five in a row in February, helping the Cajuns jump in just more than a week from sixth place to third in the Sun Belt Conference standings.

At 8-5 in league play, they now trail only Georgia State and second-place WKU.

Coach Bob Marlin and senior swingman Bryant Mbamalu seem to agree on some of the biggest factors behind the resurgence.

“The little streak is for a lot of reasons,” said Marlin, whose Cajuns have reeled off home victories over ULM, UTA, Texas State, UALR and, most recently, Arkansas State on Saturday.

“I think defensively we’ve been good. We gave up (41.1) percent (field shooting against ASU). We outshot our opponents in both these games. We’re rebounding the ball. We out-rebounded a good Arkansas State team by 17 (40-23).

“Our defense has been better,” Marlin added during his weekly media gathering Monday, “and it’s been consistent, and that’s a good thing.”

The Cajuns outshot Arkansas State by 11.4 percent. They outshot UALR 47.3 percent to 41.6 percent. They outshot UT Arlington and ULM during the streak as well.

In fact, they’re now 15-0 when outshooting their opponent.

So perhaps it’s no coincidence that defense is at the tip of Mbamalu’s tongue too.

“I think the keys to the streak are our defensive intensity and our resilience to overcome adversity,” he said.

“We’ve just been continuing to work, and continuing to trust the process,” Mbamalu added, “and finally things are falling to place for us on this little five-game winning streak.”

With the Cajuns facing what Marlin calls “a very difficult part of our schedule coming up,” keeping the run going will be no easy task.

Troy (9-15) is coming off an 85-81 upset win over Georgia State last Saturday, and Western Kentucky – though a 69-62 loser to last-place South Alabama on Saturday – is also 17-9 overall.

After playing host to Troy, UL visits Georgia State on Saturday night.

“We’ve got to go out and play every night,” said Marlin, whose Cajuns are led by point guard Elfrid Payton, who won gold with USA Basketball’s entry in last summer FIBA U19 World Championship, and Long, a preseason All-Sun Belt pick just like Payton.

“We get everybody’s best shot. Everybody wants to beat Elfrid Payton and the gold medal. Everybody want to beat Shawn Long. That’s what the other coaches are telling me. That’s how they motivate their guys.

“So we know we have to be at our best,” he added, “and there’s been nights we haven’t been, and there’s been other nights (they have).”