Bulldogs in Four-Way Tie for First Place, Ready for Owls

Feb. 14, 2014

GameDay Central | Game Notes

RUSTON - After being idle on Thursday, the league games played out to where Louisiana Tech suddenly found itself in a four-way tie for first place in the Conference USA standings.

The Bulldogs will look to keep pace on Saturday night as they conclude a three-game home stand with a matchup versus Rice inside the Thomas Assembly Center. The contest tips off at approximately 7 p.m. as the second part of a doubleheader.

This will be the first of two regular season meetings between the two travel partners. The second meeting will take place in Houston on March 6, the final game before the conference tournament.

The short rest was much deserved for LA Tech (20-5, 8-2 C-USA) who took back-to-back days off for the first time in months in order to prepare physically and mentally for the final stretch run.

"I think our guys needed it really bad," said head coach Michael White. "Physically that is obvious, but mentally may be more important just to get away from it. The college basketball season is so long. It is a marathon. This is perfect timing for us. I expect us to play with a bunch of energy against Rice at home in front of our fans."

With the speed the Bulldogs play at, fatigue may have been setting in the past couple of games that saw them get off to slow starts.

Against Tulsa, the `Dogs trailed for much of the game until Kenyon McNeail connected on a driving layup with less than three minutes remaining during a key 14-1 run.

Two days later against North Texas, the team struggled out of the gates as the Mean Green led by as much as nine in the first half before LA Tech slowly crawled back into it and eventually took the lead outright with a Jaron Johnson corner three just before the buzzer sounded to end the first stanza.

 

 

"I don't want to take anything away from the two teams we just played," said White. "Tulsa is really good. I thought North Texas was really ready to play against us, but you hope that we will have a little more pep in our step and more bounce to us, a little better body language Saturday when we tip it up."

Kenneth Smith will be relied upon to heavily to spark the No. 1 scoring offense (84.2) which has scored at least 50 points in a half nine different times and scored at least 90 points in a game nine times this season.

Much like the rest of the back court, Smith has seen his minutes increase with the loss of Raheem Appleby and it shows in the stat sheet.

Speedy has recorded at least nine assists in seven of the last eight games and needs only four more dishes to become only the third Bulldog ever to have 500 career assists.

Another milestone that may be reached on Saturday is related to McNeail. One of the best sixth men in the league is having a career year, averaging 9.9 points per game and is only 11 points shy of becoming the 36th member of the 1,000 point club at LA Tech.

The sharp-shooter will be countered by Rice (7-16, 2-8 C-USA) and its sharp-shooters.

Just like the senior guard, the Owls do most of their damage from beyond the arc as they rank second in the league in three-pointer makes (8.39) and have taken the most threes of any team in the league. Leading the charge in that category is Austin Ramljak who averages 3.09 per game which is second most in C-USA.

The owls can also hurt you down low with Sean Obi. The power forward nearly averages a double-double as he leads the country in rebounding per game (9.9) for all freshmen in NCAA Division I.

Rice sits in last place in the C-USA standings. They have played 11 games this season that have been decided by five points or less and are 5-6 in those games. Even more nerve-racking for Rice, nine of those games have come down to the final possession of regulation.

LA Tech and Rice played each other four times from 1974-84, including two overtime games, before becoming conference rivals as members of the Western Athletic Conference from 2001-05.

The Bulldogs won the first six meetings, but the Owls have been on the winning end in five of the last six.

Several promotions are on top for the doubleheader, including Scout Day with a scavenger hunt in between games for scouts. It is also Mardi Gras Day with free LA Tech beads being handed out while supplies last.

There will also be a March of Dimes diaper derby in between games. Fans can sign up their son or daughter to compete for prizes on game day.

Free Johnny's Pizza, courtesy of Campus Evolution Villages, will also be free to the first 200 students in attendance.

The contest can be heard live on the LA Tech Sports Network on KXKZ 107.5 FM and KJVC 92.7 FM. The "Voice of the Bulldogs" Dave Nitz will do play by play and Jack Thigpen will provide analysis. Fans can also access live video and audio of the game via the Internet by subscribing to LA Tech All-Access at www.LATechSports.com.

Twitter users can also receive live in-game updates by following @LATechHoops.

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