GAME NOTES: The top team in the Western Athletic Conference finally gets back to the hardwood on Saturday night, as the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs try to keep their league record unblemished as they host the Mavericks of Texas-Arlington.
For the first time in program history the Bulldogs have opened a conference slate with nine wins in as many opportunities. The team was undefeated in the month of January and has now put together a 10-game win streak overall, dating back to the middle of December.
Last weekend, LaTech stretched its road win streak to six in a row, second- longest in school history, as it topped a struggling Utah State squad in Logan, 51-48.
While the Bulldogs are all alone atop the WAC standings, the Mavericks have produced five wins in nine tries during their first season in the Western Athletic after moving over from the Southland Conference. The team has won back-to-back games a total of four times in 2012-13 but has yet to string together three consecutive triumphs, which is what they are shooting for this weekend following victories over Utah State (74-68) and San Jose State (66-47) last week.
The Bulldogs barely slipped by UTA in the first meeting of the season last month, capturing a 55-52 victory on the road as Alex Hamilton tallied 14 points and Kenyon McNeail 10 for a squad that shot a dismal 28.8 percent from the floor and 3-of-21 beyond the arc. Even though the teams are just now members of the WAC, this is a relationship that has a history, one that shows the Bulldogs with 23 wins in 31 meetings.
The defense for the Mavericks claimed the spotlight during their win over San Jose State a week ago, holding the Spartans to just six field goals in the first half, 21.9 percent accuracy for the game and a mere 4-of-25 behind the 3-point line. Kevin Butler provided a major push off the bench for the visitors to The Event Center in California as he recorded 13 points and a team-best 10 rebounds, while Greg Gainey registered a game-high 17 points and also cleared seven boards of his own. Shaquille White-Miller contributed 12 points and five assists for a team that survived 15 turnovers. Through 18 games this season the Mavericks are generating only 61.8 ppg, but at the other end the squad is one of the better defensive units in the WAC with just 60.4 ppg allowed. Butler comes the closest to scoring in double figures on a regular basis with his 9.5 ppg, while Jordan Reves (8.6 ppg) provides much- needed help on the glass with 8.5 rpg, enough to push the program to nearly 40 rpg on the campaign.
Even though there was still 1:26 remaining in regulation, a 3-pointer by Raheem Appleby at that juncture turned out to be the game-winning basket for the Bulldogs against Utah State. LaTech, which led by as many as 14 points in the first half, shot just 2-of-12 beyond the arc and 5-of-27 from the floor overall in the second half, yet still found a way to win as USU continued to flounder without key members who are now suffering with injury. Appleby, who came off the bench and played 28 minutes, scored 10 points as he shot just 3- of-11 from the floor, while Brandon Gibson accounted for a team-best 20 points as he connected on 6-of-8 shots from the perimeter in a reserve role as well. After 21 games, all but two of which Appleby has been a starter, the guard leads the team in scoring with 14.3 ppg although his 26.6 percent effort beyond the arc is still far from reliable even though he's the one who brought home the win the last time out. The team as a whole is shooting 31.5 percent on the outside, which is still better than the competition (.294) which is averaging about 4.5 triples per contest right now.
The Bulldogs have cut it close in several league games this season, one of those coming against this same UTA squad. While there's a chance the Mavericks could come up with an upset, doing so against LaTech in enemy territory will not be easy.
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