The Wildcats welcome the top offensive team in the Southland Conference this weekend, as the University of Incarnate Word Cardinals will tip off against ACU Saturday at 4 p.m. The men’s team sits at an even 9-9 record and are 3-2 in the Southland Conference, good enough for fifth place. UIW is 9-5 overall, but has struggled in the conference, dropping three of four games.
Incarnate Word is amongst the top leaders in the Southland Conference in offensive production. The Cardinals lead the conference in points per game (86.0), are second in field goal percentage (.47) and in three-point percentage (.37) and are fourth in free throw percentage (.73).
“They’re really good offensively and I don’t know if anyone has really slowed them down so far,” head coach Joe Golding said. “They’re so smart as a team so we’ll definitely have our hands full. What’s good for us is that they don’t really have a true big, they’re kind of small like we are, so that should help us out a lot. But we’ll try to throw a couple of different things at them and see how they respond.”
The Cardinals are led by the Southland Conference’s leading scorer, senior Denzel Livingston. At 6-foot-4, Livingston has excelled at scoring from all over the court. He has averaged 23.3 points per game and is shooting 47 percent from the field. Livingston earns a lot of his success at the line, though, averaging just over eight attempts per game and shooting 78 percent from the line.
“When you try to limit one player, it opens up the floor to the other four guys on the court, and for UIW they can all score,” Golding said. “We can either let him (Livingston) go off and limit the guys around him, or we can try to contain him and make other players make plays. He’s a very talented player and does such a good job of getting to the line. He’s got such great length and size that he can pull up from anywhere on the court.”
ACU comes off a disappointing 63-56 loss to McNeese State earlier this week. The Wildcats managed only 32 percent field goal shooting and committed 29 team fouls, sending the Cowboys to the line 36 times.
“We gotta get back to who we are, offensively and defensively, and play hard and compete,” Golding said. “Our defensive scheme allows us to get stops and force turnovers, and that’s what we’ll try to do against UIW. You don’t really stop a team like them, but we can try to contain how many looks they get and how many opportunities they afford.”
The Wildcats closed out last season against the Cardinals, in which ACU wasn’t able to catch UIW, falling 59-56. The Wildcats battled in the second half and cut the deficit to one with 31 seconds to play. A pair of Cardinal free throws put them up by three, and a game tying three by Julian Edmonson at the buzzer didn’t prove true and left the ACU faithful with a painful end of the season.
Senior Harrison Hawkins and junior Parker Wentz lead the team in scoring at 13.4 points per game. Senior LaDarrien Williams has found his role as one of the best sixth-men in the conference, averaging 11.5 points per game, shooting 93 percent from the free throw line and grabbing 4.4 rebounds per game. Junior Austin Cooke leads the team in rebounding at 5.8 per game and adding 9.3 points per game. As a team, ACU leads the Southland in three-point shooting percentage (.39), two points higher than second-ranked Incarnate Word.
“I think we look at every conference game as a chance to get a win,” sophomore Riley Payne said. “We definitely need to have good practices this week to be as prepared as we can. It is a long conference schedule and we can not let opportunities slip by.”
Listen to the game locally in Abilene on 98.1 FM The Ticket, or go online to the98x.com.