JONESBORO -- Both teams need a victory.
Five games remain in the regular season. Arkansas State University and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock sit in a tie for eighth place in the Sun Belt Conference. Something has to give.
Arkansas' two Sun Belt clubs are in a three-way jam with South Alabama at 5-8. Any of the three can still be kicked out of the 10-team Sun Belt Tournament if the next five games go poorly.
The Sun Belt leaders, Texas State and Georgia State, aren't that far ahead at 10-4. Neither are Appalachian State and Troy, who at 4-9 are tied for 11th place and are the two Sun Belt teams on the outside of the conference tournament bracket.
"There's a lot at stake, man," ASU Coach Mike Balado said. "We're so close in the standings, you know what I mean. This could bump somebody out of the conference tournament."
ASU (11-15, 5-8) and UALR (10-16, 5-8) will meet for a second time this season at 4 p.m. today at First National Bank Arena in Jonesboro.
It's a rematch of three weeks ago, when ASU took an 84-83 victory from the Trojans in Little Rock in a back-and-forth game that Balado said sometimes felt as if both teams were losing.
On Feb. 2, ASU and UALR each held double-digit leads -- ASU by 22 points and UALR by 14 -- then lost them by playing either passively or poorly.
Arkansas State used a 42-11 run to steamroll UALR's 14-point lead in the first half. The Trojans answered with a 35-14, game-tying run after trailing by 22 in the second half -- a surge ignited by a full-court press the Red Wolves have yet to forget about.
"They just brought it, man," recalled ASU senior guard Ty Cockfield, who led all scorers with 28 points. "We knew they were going come compete, regardless, whether we were up big or down big. Records [do not] matter playing against them."
The Trojans forced the Red Wolves into 11 second-half turnovers, many of which were byproducts of the full-court press.
ASU and UALR each had a full week to prepare for the other since there were no midweek games this week.
This week has been one of the Red Wolves' tougher weeks of practice. Up until Balado scaled back the intensity a tad Friday, all of ASU's practices have run 2½ to 3 hours long.
Much of ASU's prep time was spent preparing for UALR's press, which it expects to see again.
"They kind of turned us over a lot," Cockfield said. "They took advantage of that. This week, we've been working on all that."
Today's game will set the table for ASU and UALR's final four games, all of which are against teams currently positioned in the conference's top six seeds.
"At this point in the season, we try to get as many [wins] as we can so we can go to New Orleans," UALR junior guard and leading scorer Rayjon Tucker said. "Definitely, with it being a rivalry game, [this game is] definitely in our heads a little bit more than normal. It's definitely a big week."
Both schools will travel to Georgia to meet Georgia State and Georgia Southern (9-5 Sun Belt) next week. In the regular season's final week, ASU and UALR will host Louisiana-Lafayette and Louisiana-Monroe, which are tied for fifth at 7-6.
"It's not like there's a clear-cut favorite besides Texas State," Balado said prior to Texas State's 63-60 loss Thursday to Louisiana-Monroe. "Everybody else is kind of jumbled up with four losses, five losses, six losses.
"Things can change quickly in the next one or two games."
Sports on 02/23/2019
Print Headline: ASU, UALR look to shore up place