By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports
In sports, they like to say when two rivals meet that “you can throw the records out the window” because the game is so important that it doesn’t matter what kind of season the two teams are having.
In the case of tonight’s game between LSUS and LSUA, you might want to close the window. These are two teams whose records are worth keeping.
The LSUS Pilots, 19-7, will play host to the 19-4 Generals at 7:30 p.m. at The Dock on the campus of LSUS. It’s the final game of the regular season, and a win by LSUS will give the Pilots the outright title in the Red River Athletic Conference, traditionally one of the country’s stronger NAIA Division I basketball leagues.
Since LSUA started its program eight years ago, either the Pilots or the Generals have won the conference championship. At 12-2, the Pilots have a one-game lead in the conference standings and have clinched at least a share of the title.
“They are definitely our biggest rival, there is no doubt about that,” LSUS coach Kyle Blankenship said. “In our series, it always seems like there is always something significant on the line each time we play, whether it it’s for the conference title or position in the national rankings.”
Just in case this game needed any more juice, the two teams met earlier this year; LSUS won 71-66 in Alexandria.
“That was a big win down there,” Blankenship said. “It was our second time to ever win there and they’ve got a 90 percent winning percentage at home in their eight years. We’re the only team that’s beaten them twice at their place.”
Something else significant was the performance of Jeff Boyd in Saturday’s game. The 6-6 senior from Chicago scored 47 points in a 113-74 win over Texas College to set the stage for tonight’s game. “He can score in bunches,” Blankenship said. “We are only playing with seven guys right now and we needed someone to step up. I couldn’t be any happier for him.”
What is interesting about tonight’s matchup is how the pace of the game will play out. The Pilots love to get up and down the floor – they averaged 80 points per game – but they look like rented mules compared to the Generals.
“It’s going to come down to whether we can control the pace of the game,” Blankenship said. “We have loved to play up-tempo in the past but we are a little more controlled this year. LSUA wants to play fast. They are great in transition, probably the best in the country, so our transition defense is going to have to slow them down. If we can make it a half-court game, that will increase our chances of winning.”
The Pilots have been hot lately, winning 10 of the last 11. Since Dec. 9, LSUS is 13-2. “We have played really great basketball along the way,” Blankenship said. “We had arguably the toughest non-conference schedule in the country. We played the No. 1 team twice (Loyola), played a Top 10 team on a neutral court and then beat the No. 6 team on the road. That’s the win that kind of propelled us into the success we’ve had in January and February.”
It was against Southwest Assembly of God University, a Division III Final Four team a year ago. The Pilots have also played North Texas and Louisiana Tech in exhibition games.
“Those games against Division I teams set the tone for us,” Blankenship said. “It made us tougher and made us understand what it takes to win. We know there’s nobody we will play that’s better than those two.”