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Mike Balado has binged-watched basketball this week.

Without having a game Thursday for the first time since Sun Belt Conference play began for Arkansas State University in early January, the Red Wolves' coach used his quieter time to watch all 21 of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock's games this season.

"Really? You watched every single one?" he was asked Thursday.

"Yeah," Balado replied.

That is a lot of basketball.

"Yeah, I know," Balado said. "I've had a week."

ASU (9-12, 3-5) and UALR (7-14, 2-6) will meet for the first time this season at 5:30 p.m. today at the Jack Stephens Center in Little Rock. Saturday's doubleheader will begin at 3 p.m. with ASU and UALR's women.

"I don't care who's coming in," UALR Coach Darrell Walker said. "We need a win."

Is this really a rivalry?

"Yeah, most definitely," ASU senior guard Ty Cockfield said. "Because it's Little Rock and Arkansas State. We're in state. We're in the same conference. Barely any teams in this state get to play each other."

The Trojans are riding a four-game losing streak. At 2-6 versus the Sun Belt, UALR is sitting in a tie for last place after Appalachian State defeated Louisiana-Lafayette 104-77 Thursday to also move to 2-6.

"At the end of the day, I think we're a better team than what our record shows," Walker said. "But as long as we keep turning the ball over, that is who you are."

The Trojans' 347 turnovers this season are the most in the Sun Belt.

The ideal number for turnovers in a single game is 13 or fewer, Walker said. In 17 of UALR's 21 games, the Trojans have surpassed or equaled 13 turnovers.

"I scratch my head and I get asked all the time about what's wrong," Walker said. "What's wrong is we're turning the ball over at a crazy rate. Until my guys can figure out how not to turn the ball over at a high rate, it's going to be tough for us."

Like UALR, there's pressure on the Red Wolves to begin separating themselves from a logjam in the lower half of the Sun Belt standings. At 3-5, ASU is in a tie for eighth place with Troy and South Alabama after losing three of its past four games since Jan. 12.

With a defense that is "steadily improving," Balado said the Red Wolves are now fully healthy headed into the final 10-game stretch of the season.

"Our depth is pretty good," he said. "Now, having everybody healthy will be a benefit for us going into the later part of the league. We can sub a lot of guys in."

Two of the Sun Belt's top five scorers will be in the Jack Stephens Center today. Cockfield (20.7 points per game) and UALR junior Rayjon Tucker (20.1) have remained among the league's premier scorers throughout the season.

Cockfield led the Sun Belt in scoring before he scored six points in ASU's 77-64 loss to Coastal Carolina on Saturday.

"I don't want to make it a Cockfield-Tucker battle because there's a lot of other players on the floor," Balado said. "And when it's a rivalry game, records are thrown out."

Mike Balado

Sports on 02/02/2019

Print Headline: Red Wolves, Trojans eye Sun Belt climb

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