SHSU hopes to stay atop in tight race with SFA, heads to HBU

As the men’s college basketball season is quickly coming to an end, the anticipation for the Southland Conference Tournament grows.

Chris Winfield | The Houstonian

Chris Winfield | The Houstonian

Most of the SLC teams are in full form and have just seven conference games remaining. Out of the 13 total teams in the SLC, only two stand out on the stat sheet and are blowing their competitors out of the gym.

Those two teams are rivals Sam Houston State and Stephen F. Austin State.

The situation for the Bearkats is simple: keep pushing through the SLC in anticipation of the rematch with SFA at the end of the season.

The Kats are currently on a five-game winning streak heading into this weekend’s contest at Houston Baptist and hold a 19-5 overall record and a 10-1 conference record. Their only conference loss came at home to the Lumberjacks back on Jan. 24. SHSU is currently in second place and are a half game back from the top spot held by SFA.

Although the next game between these top two teams is three weeks away, anything can happen on the hardwood between then, and the Bearkats look to keep up their “on to the next” mentality heading to this weekend.

In the Kats’ last matchup with HBU on Jan. 31, SHSU took the win 63-52. Coming off an 88-39 win over Texas College on Monday, the Kats head into Houston with confidence behind the arc.

SHSU struggled from the three-point line against the Huskies during their last meeting, going only 7 for 20 from downtown, but that’s the only time the Kats did not shoot for at least 40 percent from three-point range in the past five games.

With HBU 6-5 in the SLC and the Kats already with one win under the belt, SHSU should have no trouble getting past the Huskies once again.

Looking at the big picture, if the Bearkats were to secure first place, an unlikely scenario would have to occur. The Bearkats would have to run the table while the Lumberjacks would have to lose a number of games. There is a low chance of this actually happening, because the Lumberjacks are currently on a 19-game winning streak. Their last loss dates back to Nov. 24 against Baylor.

“I think we are playing well in conference,” SHSU head coach Jason Hooten said. “Besides the SFA game, we’ve been playing pretty good.”

The Kats are playing championship-quality basketball this season, and the only team that is standing in the way of claiming the name “Southland Conference Champions” and earning an NCAA tournament bid is the Lumberjacks.

Other than SFA, no other conference team has put up a quality fight against the Bearkats, and the Kats have been pretty much unstoppable in the Southland Conference. SHSU has played 11 conference games so far and won six of those games by double figures. The Kats have never won an SLC game by less than six points this season. Domination by SHSU and SFA has caused their statistical rankings to be eye-popping.

SHSU is currently ranked in the top 40 in three major statistical categories. They are 28th in points per game (75.4), third in rebounds per game (41.7) and 31st in assists per game (15.3).

“We have the number one ranked defense in the Southland Conference,” Hooten said. “Our offense is really starting to come together, too. We are starting to hit our stride offensively, and we’ve shot the ball and executed a whole lot better in the last five games.”

The Jacks on the other hand are putting up very similar statistics. They are 23rd in PPG (76.7), fourth in APG (17.3) and 26th in field goal percentage (.477).

If the Bearkats want to achieve their goal of winning the Southland Conference, reaching the NCAA Tournament and winning a tournament game, they start by beating SFA in Katy during the Southland Conference Tournament.

Recent game history between the Bearkats and Lumberjacks are not in SHSU’s favor. The Kats have not defeated the Lumberjacks since the 2010-11 season. The two will face off in the regular season finale Mar. 7 in Nacogdoches in what could be an SLC Championship game preview. SFA has lost only one home game this season and has an average home game attendance of 3,757 people per game.

The Kats look to take care of business this weekend and continue dominating conference. Tipoff for Saturday’s game is set for 7 p.m. in the Sharp Gymnasium.

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