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Game #7: Louisiana Lafayette at Cal

<p class=txt>The Bears have now won 22 consecutive Non-Conference games at Haas Pavilion, and moved to 5-1 with their win last night over Grambling University. Up next is the Louisiana Lafayette Rajun Cajuns…the writers pick to win the Sun Belt Conference in 2002-03

The Rajun Cajuns enter tonight's Championship Game of the Golden Bear Classic with a mark of 5-2, and fresh of a big win over Detroit at Haas Pavilion. It was LA-Lafayette's most impressive win since beating #12 ranked Mississippi State in Starkville back in mid-November (though Mario Austin was not playing at that time). The Cajuns do have up & down tendencies though, as their two losses were to McNeese State and Birmingham-Southern College (DII). 

The Rajun Cajuns are coached by Jessie Evans, an Eastern Michigan graduate who played in Ysplanti before Ben Braun was the top man at EMU (Evans Graduated 1972). Evans in his 6th season with the LA-Lafayette program, and probably has his best team here in 2002-03. They have a quality shot at the NCAA Tournament if they can get past Western Kentucky. 

Projected Starting Lineup: (Returning starters in Bold) 2002-03 Statistics 
PG- Kenneth Lawerence 6'0 175 Sr (7.6 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 4.2 apg, 3.2 spg)
SG- Brad Boyd 6'5 190 Jr (22.0 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 3.6 apg, 43% 3-Ptr's) 
SF - Anthony Johnson 6'6 185 Sr - (18.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 3.0 spg)
PF- Michael Southall 6'10 240 So (18.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 2.0 bpg)

C- Chris Cameron 6'11 250 Fr (2.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.0 apg) 

Immanuel Washington 6'2, 190 Sr - (4.0 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 1.2 apg)
Laurie Bridges 6'5 190 Jr - (10.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg. 3.0 apg, 50% 3-Ptr's)
Cedric Williams 6'9 245 So - (6.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg) 

As some of our readers witnessed, the Cajuns have a nice scoring balance to their team. The backcourt is four deep, with starters Brad Boyd & Kenneth Lawerence interchangeable with Immanuel Washington & Laurie Bridges. In fact, in somewhat of an unusual statistic…all four of these players started 11 games or more last year. One of the key ingredients for any NCAA postseason team is to have an experienced backcourt, and I think that rings true for Louisiana Lafayette. Brad Boyd is the best scorer of the bunch, and he hasn't met a 3-pointer out of his range this season (15 three point attempts tonight against Detroit alone!). Boyd is shooting the three at a 43% clip too. Laurie Bridges is also a quality scorer, and both of Jessie Evans 2-guards have size. Washington and Lawerence will share the point, and they both have considerable experience now as Seniors. Lawerence is the better defender between the two.

In the frontcourt, Michael Southall & Anthony Johnson give the Rajun Cajuns much of what their Sun Belt counterparts do not enjoy…and that is an inside tandem. In fact, the Cajuns duo is the number one reason Jessie Evans team is the favorite to win the Sun Belt. Southall was brilliant a year ago as a frosh, being named the Sun Belt Freshman of the Year after averaging 13 ppg, 7.5 rpg, and slapping 97 blocks (school record). Southall did have some academic trouble earlier this year, but has come back in excellent form. Anthony Johnson is a Michigan native who led the Rajun Cajuns in scoring last year at nearly 15 ppg. Johnson plays more the high post, while Southall rarely drifts from the lane. Starting along with this tandem is Chris Cameron, a 6'11 Australian native who is just beginning his collegiate career. Cameron is currently the starter, however…we'll see more of Cedric Williams since the young Aussie is foul prone. Williams is likely the future replacement for Johnson.

California 2002-03 Team
Projected Starting Lineup:
(Returning Starters in Bold) 2002-03 Statistics
PG- A.J Diggs, 5'9 165 Jr. (6.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.4 apg, 4.0 spg) 
SG- Brian Wethers, 6'5 215 Sr. (14.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.2 apg, 37% 3-Ptr's) 
SF- Joe Shipp, 6'5 220 Sr. (20.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.2 apg, 1.2 spg, 60% 3-ptrs) 
F- Amit Tamir, 6'11 260 So. (15.2 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 3.4 apg, 52% 3-ptrs) 

C- Gabriel Hughes, 6'11 230 Jr. (2.0 ppg, 2.6 rpg) 

Richard Midgley, 6'1 200 Fr. (7.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.6 apg, 41% 3-ptrs) 
Erik Bond, 6'7 205 Fr. (3.0 ppg, 1.2 rpg,1.0 apg)
Conor Famulener, 6'6 230 Jr. (4.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.0 apg) 
David Paris, 6'9 260 Fr. (Limited Minutes)
Rod Benson, 6'10 195 Fr. (Limited Minutes)
Martin Smith (Limited Minutes)
Tashaan Forehan-Kelly, 6'3 170 So. (Limited Minutes)
Jordi Geli Vilardell, 6'10 190 Fr. (Limited Minutes)
Donte Smith, 6'2 190 Sr. (Injured - Out till January)

Early on, this should be a pretty nip & tuck match-up between LA-Lafayette & Cal. I believe the Rajun Cajuns will come out confident after posting four consecutive wins, plus the experience of having played at Haas Pavilion the night before. They do play like a team who enjoys a challenge as well. I believe the Bears are a pretty stiff challenge though considering the fact that they haven't lost at home since 1999 to a non Pac-10 team. It'll be very important for Louisiana Lafayette to get off to a great start, and for the Bears to eliminate that by playing solid defense from the get go. Since the Bears played a lackluster 1st half against Grambling (the effects of 10 days off), I am confident they'll come out sharper. 

The biggest weakness that the Cajuns have is they do not switch well defensively. They do not guard the 3-pointer adequately, and if you move the ball against them…they have trouble. Offensively, they are not a gifted passing team either…and they rely quite a bit on dribble drives, or crossing over on screens. I believe that could mean a big game for Amit Tamir and Joe Shipp. If the Bears move without the ball, they'll be able to score often. It'll also be key for Cal to turn their defense into offense. 

This game has a chance to be a higher scoring contest since I don't envision it being a half-court game too often. Louisiana Lafayette likes to run, and I believe the Bears will really enjoy a chance to get up an down if that's the pace. If one team falls behind, I'm sure the pace will settle down for a brief spurt. We should see quite a few 3-pointers overall, and if the Bears play smart defense…they'll force Johnson away from the hoop. They should also have Brian Wethers in close on Boyd & Bridges all night. 

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