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Gamenight: Cajuns open SBC play in Denver

Louisiana’s Ragin’ Cajuns are hoping that the start of conference play means a start in the turnaround of their 2010-11 season.

The Cajuns (2-9) are starting the conference part of the season, however with a pretty tough road trip.  It all starts tonight at the University of Denver at Magness Arena (7,200) on the DU campus.  Tipoff is scheduled for 8pm (CST).

This will be the next to last trip to Denver to play the Pioneers.  Denver will leave the Sun Belt Conference after the 2011-12 season to join the Western Athletic Conference.

The Pioneers, who have been a very tough team to beat at Magness, have actually struggled a bit at home this season.  The Pioneers are just 4-3 at home (0-6 on the road), but have won their last two, beating Northern Colorado (71-68) and Arkansas-Pine Bluff (73-55).  This is the third game in a four game homestand for Denver, who host UALR on Sunday.

Denver returns nine players, including four starters from last year’s team that went 19-13 overall, 10-8 in the conference and 15-1 at home.  The loss of the one starter was a big one, however, as two time all-SBC performer Nate Rohnert has exhausted his eligibility.  This year, sophomore Chase Hallam leads the Pios with 12.6 ppg, while junior Brian Stafford has hit for 12.3 ppg.  Hallam really hurt the Cajuns in the regular season finale last year, scoring 20 points and Stafford has had good games against the Cajuns in the past as well. 

Joe Scott (49-57) is in his fourth season as head coach of the Pioneers.  Denver runs the Princeton offense and they’ve been very good at Magness since Scott took over.  Even with the three losses this year, Denver is 40-10 at home under Scott and 23-4 in Sun Belt games.

The Cajuns have shown some improvement of late and are coming off an 82-76 loss to New Mexico State in Las Cruces last Tuesday.  In that game, freshman Bryant Mbamalu scored a career-high 16 points, while Josh Brown and Courney Wallace added ten points apiece.   For the season, Brown leads the Cajuns, averaging 13.7ppg, while Travis Bureau adds ten points per contest.

It will be interesting to see how coach Bob Marlin and his staff play the Pios tonight.  Most teams have eschewed using bigger players against Denver because of their patterned offense.  That could mean less playing time for Wallace, Colby Batiste and Javan Mitchell, and more for the other nine players.

The Cajuns have always had good fortune in their trips to Denver as far as the weather is concerned, but that luck may have run out on this trip.  The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Storm Warning for today.  The snow should start at noon and be at the heaviest from late this afternoon through tonight.  Accumulations of 6-10 inches are expected, and the temperatures, while pleasant yesterday (near 50 degrees) will drop into the teens by this afternoon and be near zero tonight.  The Cajuns have a 10:30 flight scheduled for tomorrow morning out of Denver International Airport, but the snow is expected to continue through the night and into tomorrow morning.  That, in itself, will be interesting.

Louisiana concludes the road trip with a New Years’ afternoon contest at preseason favorite North Texas scheduled for 4pm at the Super Pit in Denton.  The Cajuns home conference opener will be next Thursday night against Troy.

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