Anatomy of a winning streak
How does a team go on an eleven game winning streak?
Especially if the team has a 3-14 record when the streak begins.
If you're Louisiana's Ragin' Cajuns, it has to happen in all kinds of ways.
At the end, you have to make a play on offense.
At the end, you have to make a play on defense.
At the end, the other team has to make a mistake
At the end you have to make free throws.
And, sometimes, at the end, you have to be lucky.
It's the last one that rankles fans sometimes. It's almost as though saying your team was lucky is to suggest they aren't good. But the fact of the matter is, sometimes you're lucky to win. And there is absolutely no shame in that. The old adage, "I'd rather be lucky than good," isn't entirely accurate, but there are times when it's true.
During the Cajuns eleven game winning streak, they won two games (Centenary-Game #1 and ULM-game #11) by double figures.
In seven of the other nine games, the Cajuns and their opponent were separated by three points or less in the final minute of the game.
ULM (#2)--It was a one point Cajuns lead with 2:37 to go. Two La'Ryan Gary free throws at the 2:19 mark, and it was still a one-possession game. But a steal and an alley-oop dunk with 2:01 to play finally gave the Cajuns a little bit of cushion and they won by nine points. Cajuns win by making plays on offense down the stretch.
UNT (#3)--The Mean Green made it a one possession game by hitting two free throws with :34 left. Randall Daigle made 1-2 one second later to make it a four point game. On UNT's next possession, Raymone Andrews took a charge. Josh Brown then made it a five point game by making 1-2 free throws and it was over. Cajuns win by making free throws and getting a defensive stop.
USA (#4) The Cajuns trailed at the 5:00 mark and had not one a game all season when trailing at that point. But a Bryant Mbamalu tip in with :55 left gave Louisiana a one point lead. Augustine Rubit hit 1-2 free throws for the tie with :42 seconds left. The Cajuns missed a shot but got the offensive rebound. On an inbounds play with :18 left, the ball went into the backcourt but it was ruled no possession had been gained after the inbounds and it was a no call (a post on a website said the call was deemed the wrong call two weeks later. We haven't gotten confirmation on that.) The Cajuns missed a jumper with :03 left and then dominated the overtime. Cajuns win despite not hitting a shot at the end of regulation.
UALR (#5)--The Cajuns led by three with 1:07 to go, but an Eric Kibi layup at :45 cut the lead to one. The Cajuns ran a set play for Randell Daigle but he missed the three pointer that would have possibly iced the game with :29 left. Solomon Bozeman got a foul call with :08.8 left to give UALR a one point lead. Travis Bureau hit two free throws with less than a second left to win it. Cajuns win by making clutch free throws.
FIU (#6)--Cajuns led by three with 1:15 left, but turned the ball over. FIU cut the lead to one with :35 left, but the Cajuns hit two free throws four seconds later get the lead back up to 3. FIU again cut the lead to one with :22 remaining. Cajuns again make two free throws. FIU gets an old fasioned three point play with :11 left to tie it. Randall Daigle is fouled on the baseline with :08 left to give the Cajuns a two point lead. Cajuns force a travelling call on Phil Gary with :05 left. La'Ryan Gary hits two freebies for the final margin. Cajuns win by making free throws and getting a crucial defensive stop.
That's four wins in a row when it was one possession or less with under a minute to go.
FAU (#7) Trailing by one with 9:45 to go, Cajuns go on a 15-3 run over the next five minutes to take an eleven point lead. FAU cut the lead to five with 1:48 to go, but that was the last gasp. Cajuns win by holding FAU without a field goal over the last eleven minutes.
ASU (#8) Trey Finn's jumper ties the game with 1:16 left. Raymone Andrews hits two free throws with :45 to go to give the Cajuns a 60-58 lead. Rashad Allison gets an offensive rebound on a missed three-pointer, but only makes 1-2 free throws to keep the lead at one point. Daigle hits two with :18 left to make it a three point game. Another missed three pointer leads to an Allison put-back to make it a one point game again with :07 left. J. J. Thomas hits two freebies with less than six second left to get the lead back to three. ASU is called for an unforced double-dribble with 2.4 to go to end ASU's hopes. Cajuns win by making clutch free throws and benefit from an ASU mistake.
WKU (#9) It's a two point Cajuns lead with 1:26 to go. The Cajuns miss a shot, but Raymone Andrews takes a charge with :31 left. Andrews then makes 1-2 free throws two second later to put the Cajuns up by three. WKU hits a free throw with :09 left to make it a two point game but Josh Brown answers with a free throw of his own to make it a three point margin again. Kahlil McDonald's off-balance contested three pointer misses and the Cajuns win again. Cajuns win by getting making enough free throws and getting two defensive stops. It should also be noted the Cajuns got a major break at the 4:00 minute mark when Josh Brown hit a shot from the baseline when it appeared the shot clock should have expired.
DENVER (#10) For the second time in the streak the Cajuns trailed at the 5:00 mark and Denver had a chance to make it a three possession game. But Brian Stafford, an 86% free throw shooter, missed not once, but twice. Josh Brown got an old fashioned three point play to cut the lead to two points with 3:46 left and La'Ryan Gary tied it with two freebies with 3:03 left. Neither team scored until Chase Hallam hit two free throws with 1:00 left to give DU a two point lead. Two more Gary freebies with :26 left tied it again. Hallam missed an off-balance shot from ten feet with just seconds remaining and Chris Udofia inexplicably missed an easy tip in at the buzzer. The Cajuns finally get the lead for good with under a minute to go in overtime and then force a turover and make their free throws. The Cajuns win by getting defensive stops at the end of regulation and in overtime. They also won by blind luck when an easy tip for the win didn't go down.
Eleven games. Eight of them in doubt in the final minute.
That takes mental toughness. That takes solid defense. That takes great chemistry. That takes the ability to make plays at the end.
And, it takes a little luck.