At 13-9 overall and 5-4 in conference play the Wildcats enter Wednesday night fresh after a full week of no games. But halfway through the conference schedule and fighting for a spot in the Southland Conference Tournament in Katy, ACU welcomes Lamar (13-9, 5-4) with little room for error.
“Just understanding the sense of urgency that the season is coming close to an end, every game is important,” head coach Joe Golding said. “It’s funny because this time of year you say ‘oh this is the biggest game on the schedule,’ then we’ll turn the page Thursday and we’ll look at Sam Houston State like ‘ this is the biggest game on the schedule’, so every game is big.”
However, this game could be bigger than even Golding is leading on.
In a tie for seventh place in the conference with the Cardinals ahead of Wednesday’s matchup, a win would bump the Wildcats into sixth place, giving some breathing room from that eighth spot. It would also give ACU the tiebreaker over Lamar if needed down the road, since this is the two teams lone regular season meeting. Additionally, the Wildcats have lost three-straight home games after starting the season 7-0 in Moody Coliseum, and with three of their next four, and five of their final nine games at home, a win in front of the home crowd after the bye could propel the Wildcats down the stretch.
Golding said the bye has also allowed the team to refocus for the last nine regular season games.
“I think this bye week has been really really good for us. People don’t remember we only had two days off for Christmas after the Tech game and we met New Orleans and it has been a nine-game grind since New Orleans,” Golding said. “So it’s been great. I just think that bye week was good we got to relax for a day or two and we got to get back to practice and work on some little things and regroup for the final stretch.”
The Wildcats have been led all season by their sophomore center Jalone Friday, averaging 13.8 points per game, but Friday’s minutes have been limited in several games this year due to early foul trouble. Juniors Jaren Lewis and Jaylen Franklin also join Friday in double-figure scoring at 13.1 ppg and 10 ppg respectively. Graduate transfer Tevin Foster rounds out the double-figure scorers, contributing 12.7 per contest.
With all that could be on the line in Wednesday’s matchup, ACU’s most tangible challenge will likely be Lamar’s Colton Weisbrod, who is averaging 20.2 ppg during conference play. Nick Garth and Josh Nzeakor have also been crucial, each contributing double figures for a Cardinals’ offense averaging 77.2 ppg.
The game is set to start at 7 p.m. and can be heard on 98.1 FM, The Ticket.