Good morning from Hot Springs, Arkansas!
Team Rivals rolled into town around 1:45 this morning, making a crash landing at the $44/night Knights Inn. There is just something about turning off the interstate onto that final 29 mile stretch of road to Hot Springs that brings a smile to my face. At times it just seems a little bit magical. Hopefully the Tops will leave Hot Springs in 2013 the same way they left it last year with a SBC Tournament championship.
Western Kentucky is the debut game in the Sun Belt Conference's finale here in Hot Springs. The Tops will tipoff at 6:00 PM CST against the Warharwks from Monroe, Louisiana. The Hilltoppers come into the tournament as the six seed, one spot ahead of last year's Sun Belt Tournament championship team that was sitting in the seven spot.
The Warhawks come into the 2013 tournament as the eleven seed with only three conference wins on the season, two of which were over the North Texas Mean Green. The Warhawks are 2-5 all-time at the Sun Belt Tournament, never advancing to the semi-finals.
The Hilltoppers come into tonights game averaging 67 points per game, seven points higher than the Warhawks average of 60 ppg. ULM is giving up 77 points per game in conference play.
The Warhawks are led by third year head coach, Keith Richard. Richard has compiled just 14 wins during his short tenure at ULM with only seven of those being conference victories. Smart money says Richard's days at Louisiana-Monroe are numbered.
Western Kentucky has won three of their last four games and are looking forward to another successful campaign in Hot Springs. The HIlltoppers have advanced to the semi-finals of the Sun Belt Tournament the last eight years and have won two championship the last four years.
T.J. Price leads the Hilltoppers and ranks eighth in the Sun Belt in scoring with 14.9 points per game. Price is shooting 39.4 percent from the field, 36.2 percent from 3-point range, and 68.5 percent from the free-throw line on the season. George Fant adds 12.8 points and a team-high 6.7 rebounds per game. Jamal Crook, who has sparked the Toppers late-season success, chips in 12.7 points per game while dishing out a team-high 4.4 assists per game.
Western Kentucky is 9-1 all-time against ULM and 2-0 against the Warhawks this season. The Hilltoppers have played ULM once before in the Sun Belt Tournament, a 66-50 victory in 2011.
In Westerns last meeting with ULM on February 21st, Western dominated the boards with a 43-28 advantage. The Toppers also outscored the Warhawks in the paint (32-18) and off the bench (24-8). Look for WKU to have a lot of bench points tonight against Lousiana-Monroe.
Amos Olatayo led the Warhawks on Feb. 21st with 18 points. He shot 6-of-17 from the field, two-of-three being from behind the arc. Trent Mackey added 13 points while shooting 4-of-9 from 3-point range. George Fant and T.J. Price both finished with 15 points.
Western Kentucky will tipoff at 6:00 pm CST in the main gym at the Summit Convention Center. There will be a live stream available at SunBeltSports.org. Barring no technical difficulties, we will have a post-game radio show. Check our twitter, @WKU_Rivals, for more details.
The winner of tonights contest will play the No. 3 seed Jaguars from South Alabama on Saturday night at 8:30 CST.