Who: Texas Tech (8-1) vs. Arkansas-Little Rock (10-0)
Where: Lubbock, Texas, United Supermarkets Arena
When: Tuesday, December 19, 2:00 p.m. (CT)
TV: Fox Sports Southwest Plus
Radio: Texas Tech Sports Network
Notable: Arkansas-Little Rock is 0-3 all time against Texas Tech, and their only victory over a current Big 12 team came against Baylor in 1987.
Quotable: “They don’t make many mistakes, and they communicate well as a team. On the defensive end, they do a good job of taking away your initial cuts with their switching. They really pack it in defensively and try to limit you to one shot. They have sound, fundamental defensive principles. They challenge every pass but don’t extend themselves where you can get easy baskets. Marcus Johnson, Jr. is a special player and is as quick as lightning. He can take you off the dribble, and score from anywhere. His three-point range makes him that much more dangerous. Along with Josh Hagins, those guys are a big key to their team. They are well-coached and play very unselfishly.”—Tubby Smith on Arkansas-Little Rock
Ordinarily one wouldn’t think a December battle between Texas Tech and Arkansas-Little Rock taking place at 2:00 in the afternoon on a Tuesday would be momentous, but the one transpiring in 2015 most certainly is.
Arkansas-Little Rock comes to Lubbock with a 10-0 record—they are one of six remaining unbeaten teams—and sporting a 5-0 record on the road. The Trojans’ 10-0 start is the best in the history of the Sunbelt Conference, and should they extend their winning streak to 11 it would be the longest winning streak in UALR history. In other words, the Trojans will be a strongly motivated team.
But the very motivation Arkansas-Little Rock possesses will serve as competitive fire for a Texas Tech club which has won seven straight games itself. If the Red Raiders manage to upend the Trojans it will earn them national publicity and stand as a “quality” win when postseason invitations are doled out.
Then, too, there is the family feel between Texas Tech and UALR to further spice things up. Trojan head coach Chris Beard was an assistant coach for 10 years in Raiderland under Bob and Pat Knight. And UALR assistant Mark Adams spent two seasons under Tubby Smith as director of basketball operations.
As for the UALR team itself, the 10-0 record is partly, but far from entirely, a function of a soft schedule. The Trojans have feasted on the likes of Central Baptist, Centenary and Central Arkansas, but also have road wins over San Diego State and DePaul, and most impressively, Tulsa.
Statistically, the Trojans have a few mighty impressive markers. They are holding teams to 54 points per game, which is best in the nation, and are allowing the opposition only 36-percent shooting, eighth best nationally. Additionally, UALR’s 81-percent free throw shooting is No. 1 in the nation, and they are No. 4 in assist/turnover ratio.
Arkansas-Little Rock is paced by guards Marcus Johnson, Jr. and Josh Hagins. Johnson leads the team in scoring with 15 points per game, and shoots 55 percent from the floor and 51 percent from three. Hagins averages 12 points, five assists and four rebounds per contest, and also leads the Trojans in steals with 17.
The home-standing Red Raiders are a hot and rapidly improving team. They shot at a 65-percent clip in their last outing, a win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff, and that mark is Tech’s highest under Tubby Smith. Additionally, the Red Raiders are holding foes to 32-percent shooting over the course of the last four games. If you sense a defensive struggle brewing, you may be right.
Over the course of the season Tech has opened a wide shooting disparity between itself and its opponents. The Red Raiders are connecting on 46 percent of their shots while limiting opponents to only 38-percent shooting.
Individually, Devaugntah Williams continues to lead Tech in scoring with 15 points per game. He’s also the Big 12’s top free throw shooter, connecting on 93 percent of his attempts from the stripe.
Toddrick Gotcher averages 11 points and five boards per contest, and has racked up 22 assists against only nine turnovers.
Zach Smith leads the Red Raiders in rebounding with six per game, shooting at 54 percent, and blocked shots with 12.