For the first time this college basketball season the IUPUI Jaguars faced a Division I opponent. Tuesday night in Little Rock Arkansas the Jags faced a team that had speed, height, and a willingness to rebound unlike any of the previous three teams they played. In the end they fell behind late in the first half by 16 points and a furious 2nd half rally fell short resulting in a 75-70 loss. Todd Howard’s bunch is 1-1 after two regular season games and will try to bounce back Friday night in Milwaukee.
Tuesday night IUPUI played pretty good basketball, but failed to rebound and were outscored in the paint. UALR was out-rebounded in their previous two games by an average of 13…they finished +7 against IUPUI and had 10 more board than the Jags at the half. “That was a big key in the game. When Christian (Siakam) got the two quick fouls it changes us inside.” Coach Howard continued, “when he is out on the floor he rebounds and creates space to allow other guys to rebound. Without him in there, they really bunched things up. When you lose on the boards, you will lose in the paint, and the other team typically shoots more free throws than you.” UALR made 18 free throws, one more than IUPUI attempted.
Overall the head coach was pleased with the offensive play and his players can use this as a wakeup call. “Honestly, I thought last year we only had two games where our offense was better than it was tonight. That was against IPFW (at Conseco Fieldhouse) and Oakland (at the fieldhouse). We had really good spacing and took some good shots, but it wasn’t enough. I plan on showing the guys video of our good plays and telling them that they far outweigh the bad offensive plays.”
The Jaguars don’t have much time to dwell on the loss. The team will bus to Milwaukee tomorrow afternoon for the Friday game. After that it is a showdown Sunday afternoon vs. Eastern Michigan and then on Wednesday they will play on the road at Ball State. The guys will have to be ready to play and they will have to do some preparation on their own. The Jags will not practice on Wednesday (NCAA rules mandate you need to take a day off) so it’s up to them to study and scout Milwaukee. I’m looking forward to see how they bounce back against a Horizon League foe.
It didn’t take long for the subject of conference realignment to be brought up at Arkansas-Little Rock. UALR competes in the Sun Belt and won the conference tournament last spring advancing to their first NCAA tournament in 21 years. Just after I set up my radio equipment an usher walked over to me and asked it I heard anything about UALR joining the Summit League. This summer Oral Roberts is leaving the Summit to joint the Southland Conference leaving the League with 9 teams. Is UALR a candidate to joint the league? They belive they are. It appears, according to the usher, UALR is worried they will be forced to leave the Sun Belt because they don’t have a football program. Rather than lose the ties with the Sun Belt, they may begin snooping around the Summit League. This doesn’t seem to be much of a secret in Little Rock, but it was news to me. Can I really take the word of an usher? I did a little digging of my own and it does look like UALR would look into the Summit. I didn’t talk to many people, but those I did speak with were quick to say they really like the Sun Belt and the long rivalries. However, as we have found out with the recent conference moves…that doesn’t mean much to universities.
UALR has a tremendous basketball facility and their state of the art practice facility that was donated by Alum Derek Fisher. He played for the Trojans in the early to mid-90’s and his name is on the practice court. The facilities will make UALR a player in the Summit League. I’m only on board if Indianapolis finds a direct flight to Little Rock.
Senior point guard Stephen Thomas returned to the court 14 days after injuring his right ankle. The 5th year player came off the bench, but started the second half and played very well for missing two weeks. The challenge was fitting him back in with the team after missing so much practice time. He played 29 minutes and according to him, “felt more like 40 minutes.” He was sore and tired from seeing his first action since the injury on November 1st. The next step is to see if he returns to the starting lineup on Friday. I’d bet on it.
Greg Rice started at the point the past two games with Thomas on the sidelines. The redshirt sophomore continued to impress hitting all three of his shots from beyond the arc and scoring in double-figures. At the start of the second half coach Howard went with Rice and Thomas in the back court leaving Sean Esposito on the bench. There is no doubt that Rice brings you effort and production when he is out there on the floor. He can hit shots (more importantly he’ll take a big shot) and can play defense. Espo has started the past two games and we’ll find out if he will stay there or come of the bench on Friday. If he comes off the bench he’ll be the #1 shooting option on the second unit and that may fit him perfectly. Oh, and why “THE GIANT?” Rice went to Ben Davis and I’m convinced he thinks he is 6-6 235 pounds instead of 5-11 188. He’s a bulldog on the court and I like watching him play.
I mention Rice has the guts to take a tough shot and even a big shot if needed because IUPUI is looking for that guy. Tuesday night the Jaguars were making a run and it looked like they really missed graduated Senior Leroy Nobles. The 2011 2nd team all-Summit League performer was THE guy to take and hit a game changing three. Obviously he isn’t with the team and they need to find the next Nobles. At times it looked like Thomas and Alex Young didn’t trust who was camped on the wing ready to shoot. Maybe I’m way off, but a big shot was needed late in the game and no one was able to hit it or find the right shooter. With time IUPUI will have to find that shooter. Who knows, maybe it’s Greg Rice.
Finally, you have to see the latest video at IUPUIjags.com. Check out this great video of head coach Todd Howard mic’d up at practice. It’s on the right had side of the page and you can play the video right from the main page. David Harris from Webstream Productions did a terrific job and I think you’ll like it.
Join me for the play-by-play Friday night from Milwaukee at 8 EST. In the meantime I’d love you hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org