Two of the top teams in the Southland Conference play this Saturday as both ACU and Stephen F. Austin put their undefeated records to test. The Wildcats (9-7, 3-0) will play the Lumberjacks (13-3, 3-0) in Moody Coliseum at 11 a.m. Saturday morning. It will be the first game in ACU history to be nationally broadcasted from Moody Coliseum, as CBS will air the game.
The Wildcats have been strong at home, winning six of the team’s seven games in Abilene so far. Stephen F. Austin is on a three game road winning streak, and is 4-2 when playing away from the William R. Johnson Coliseum in Nacogdoches. The two losses came early in the season at the hands Xavier, 81-63, and Baylor in Waco, 67-51.
ACU is riding a three game winning streak and have been winners in five of their last six contests. The Wildcats have handled each team they have faced in the conference, winning by an average of 16 points. The men started off conference play with back to back wins against Central Arkansas, 87-70, and then Nicholls State the following weekend, 71-54.
“The guys on the court are going to be the key to what happens this weekend,” associate head coach Brette Tanner said. “They’ve bought into how unselfish they have to be and the level defensively we have to be to win games. We’ve always had high expectations and it’s good to see that show on the court.”
Earlier this week, the Wildcats faced the well established Demons of Northwestern State in Natchitoches, Louisiana. The Wildcats came away with one of the biggest wins in school history and a perfect 3-0 conference record after the 95-81 victory. Senior guards Harrison Hawkins and LaDarrien Williams and junior guard Parker Wentz had phenomenal games, combining for 80 of the team’s 95 points.
Stephen F. Austin is widely considered the most dominate team in the Southland Conference. Last season, the Lumberjacks went a perfect 18-0 in conference play, with a margin of victory of 15.8 points per game. Their 2013-14 season was historically one of the best in the Southland Conference’s existence, as their 32-3 record set the record for most wins by a team. The Lumberjacks won the conference tournament and earned a bid to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. SFA shocked the world by upsetting fifth seeded Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), 77-75, on a four-point play that sent the game into overtime. SFA fell in the next round to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Bruins, 77-60.
“It’s really hard to prepare for a team like SFA because they’re so good,” Tanner said. “We have to work on our game which involves how hard do we want to play, how hard to we want to defend and how unselfishly we want to be.”
The Wildcats 3-0 conference record is the best start since ACU went 6-0 to start Lone Star Conference play in the 1986-87 season. Hawkins has been a huge reason for the team’s success so far. The six-foot guard from Long Beach, California is averaging 13.8 points per game, but has upped his output over the past four games. He has averaged 24.8 points per game since the Wildcats took on Grand Canyon at the end of December.
“I’ve just really tried to be confident in what I can do and being careful of picking and choosing my spots on the court,” Hawkins said. “My teammates have been really helping me by believing in me.”
Wentz, who leads the team with 14.4 points per game, scored 21 of his 29 points against Northwestern State in the first half. He also leads the team in three point shooting (.48, second in the conference), three point makes per game (2.7) and steals per game (1.9).