LA Tech Focused for Regular Season Finale at Rice
March 5, 2014
RUSTON - Focus is the word of the week for the Louisiana Tech men's basketball team as they head to Houston, Texas to face Rice on Thursday night at 7 p.m. inside Tudor Fieldhouse in the regular season finale.
Up for grabs is a potential Conference USA championship in the team's first year in the league and also a coveted double bye in the conference tournament.
"This week to me is about one word and that is focus," said head coach Michael White. "We have an opportunity in our first year in Conference USA to win a share of a championship which would be a tremendous feat, especially for a team that has gone without their leading scorer throughout conference play. It would be something no one could ever take away from us. The opportunity is right there Thursday against a team that we had success with here, but our focus has got to be off the charts.
What matters to us right now is playing as well as can Thursday night, giving ourselves a chance to win a championship against a team that will be ready. Rice will be ready and they will be prepared and play very hard. They are disciplined and they will execute well. Rice is a huge game for us."
LA Tech (24-6, 12-3 C-USA) has put itself in this position thanks largely to its defense which has carried the team in the three must-win games since the road loss to East Carolina two weeks ago.
At Old Dominion, the Bulldogs forced 14 turnovers and turned them into 17 points. Then at home versus league-leader Middle Tennessee, the Blue Raiders committed 19 turnovers and were limited to just 39 total points. That marked the fewest points scored since Feb. 3, 2007.
And in the most recent game at UAB, LA Tech forced 16 turnovers and only allowed 34.9 percent shooting by the Blazers, including just one three-pointer.
"We came off probably our second most emotional win on the road in Old Dominion with our backs against the wall after a loss to East Carolina," said White. "We played really, really hard at Old Dominion and had major offensive struggles but overcame them with the way that we defended. We came back home and had as an emotional win as we have had at home where the ultimate goal was to hold our own on the glass and defend as well as we possibly could.
"[Then] for the third game in a row, our guys laid it on the line and put themselves in a position to where Thursday means something."
The Bulldogs will need to put forth another strong defensive effort against their league travel partner Rice (7-21, 2-13 C-USA), a team they stifled for an 85-46 victory on Feb. 15 led by Kenyon McNeail who recorded a game-high 17 points.
Chris Anderson also registered his second career double-double that game with 16 points and a season-high 12 rebounds, but it was the defense that shined, forcing Rice into 23 turnovers and allowed its leading scorers Austin Ramljak and Sean Obi to a combined 13 points.
"We limited [Sean Obi's] touches," said White. "We just extended our pressure so well in the press and in the half court. We got our hands on a lot of basketballs. The least amount he touches the basketball, the better chance we have. He is a load. Our pressure has to be very important and Michale Kyser has to beat him with his speed. We have got to beat him up and down the floor."
Including the loss by the Owls in the TAC, they have dropped six straight games. Two of those have come at home and both were heartbreaking losses. The most recent one came versus UAB where Rice had a one-point lead with 3.4 seconds left, but the Blazers sank a layup at the Buzzer.
Beyond the arc, the Owls' Ramljak is one of the best shooters in C-USA and is ranked 30th in the country in made three-pointers.
Down low, Obi is almost averaging a double-double and leads the conference in rebounds per game.
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 have the call with pregame starting at 6:30 p.m. and Jack Thigpen joining him as analyst. Fans can also access live 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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