Men’s basketball faces the daunting task of staying above .500 in conference play over the weekend. The Wildcats travel to San Antonio to face Incarnate Word on Saturday who are 4-2 at home and are ridding a three-game winning streak.
Tip off for the game will be at 4:30 p.m.
After an impressive win on Tuesday night, ACU stands at 3-2 in league play with a total record of 8-10. Freshman point guard Jaylen Franklin poured in a career-high 29 points with 23 of those coming in the second half as he helped give ACU the edge in the 75-67 win at home.
ACU is 0-4 against UIW since the move to the Southland Conference. In those losses, the Wildcats average 59 points for, while averaging 70 points against. Last season, UIW handed ACU two, double-digit losses, 77-61 and 64-52. The last ACU win against Incarnate Word came on February 2013, in an 82-68 win.
The Wildcats have up-and-down this year, avoiding both long winning-streaks and losing-streak. They suffered a three-game losing streak in non-conference play when they faced California Riverside (60-56) Texas Christian University (80-69) and Drake (87-70). They also won back-to-back games, something they’ve only done twice this year, in their non-conference finale against Hillsdale Baptist (90-48) and their conference opener against Central Arkansas (62-61).
On a team where two freshman are everyday starters, and two other freshman contribute major minutes off the bench, consistency has been an issue for head coach Joe Golding‘s squad. ACU won it’s first, third and fifth games of conference, while dropping its second and fourth.
Franklin leads the purple and white in scoring at 15.7 a game and has improved that during conference play, scoring 18.8 a game through five games. Freshman forward Jaren Lewis has been Golding’s do-it-all man. He can score (9.6 points per game), rebound (5.7 rebounds per game) and play defense (1.3 steal per game). Lewis bounced back for a solid game against McNeese State after three rough shooting games in a row (combined 10-32). He turned in 12 points on 5-7 shooting, grabbed five boards and hit a three in 24 minutes of action.
Senior guard Parker Wentz turns in 9.4 points per game. The three-point specialist has struggled in his past two games, going just 2-9 from deep. But, don’t expect him to be down for too long, as he’s continuously one of the top deep ball threats in the Southland.
Senior Duran Porter averages 9.3 points and 4.4 rebounds for ACU in the middle. While his scoring may be spotty, his free throw shooting and blocks per game shouldn’t go unnoticed. After struggling from the line last year, Porter has improved his foul shot from 50 percent last season to 70 percent this year, converting 35-50 attempts on the year. His defense has shown the same kind of improvement. Porter blocked 13 shots in 31 games last year. This season, he has 24 blocks through 18 games and has recorded a swat in his last six games.
The UIW Cardinals (3-1, 8-7) are led by senior forward Kyle Hittle and sophomore point guard Jontrell Walker. The 6-foot-5, 210 lbs Hittle averages 16 points per game while shooting 45 percent from the field. Twice Hittle has gone over 20 points this season, he put in 29 points against Our Lady of the Lake, and then scored 27 while going 8-15 shooting earlier this month.
Walker prides himself on his free throw shooting. The 6-foot-1 speedster has converted 49 of 53 attempts on the year for 92 percent. He averages 14.9 points per game and has reached double-digits in all but two games this season. Walker also had a big game against Our Lady of the Lake, dropping 28 points and going 10-10 from the charity stripe.
In their last game, the Cardinals defeated Southeastern Louisiana, 75-71 in Hammond, Louisiana. Since their conference opening loss against Sam Houston, 78-72, UIW has won three-straight games, handling business with Northwestern State, 70-56, and edging New Orleans University on the road, 71-68.
UIW stands at around the middle of the pack in offensive production, scoring 72 points a night. And while they stand at 3-1 in conference, their margin of victory has only been 3.8 points against Southland Conference teams. From beyond the arc, the Cardinals average 8.2 makes per game and convert 37 percent of the time.
Defensively, the Cardinals are solid. They currently rank third in the conference, giving up 68.3 points per game. UIW, while they give up 45 percent shooting, has been impressive at holding offenses to single-shot attempts and few second chance opportunities. They have given up a conference leading 223 shot attempts in their four conference games. ACU comes in second at only allowing 257 attempts in five games.