The Texas-Arlington Mavericks try to leave a lasting impression in their one and only season in the Western Athletic Conference, as they challenge the New Mexico State Aggies for the conference tournament title at Orleans Arena on Saturday night.
The fourth seed in the 30th annual event, the Mavericks are a perfect example of the ever-changing landscape in college sports, coming over from the Southland Conference this year and then moving on to the Sun Belt Conference beginning next season. Needless to say, the team has made an impression in the WAC by defeating Utah State in the quarterfinals on Thursday, 83-78, and then topping Texas-San Antonio yesterday, 69-53.
As for the third-seeded Aggies, a squad which came over from the Sun Belt and are the defending tournament champs, they began the road to the title game this time around with a 65-49 triumph over Idaho two days ago, and followed that up with a 74-65 victory against Texas State on Friday. Owners of a 16-4 mark all-time in this event, NMSU has won the championship three times.
These teams split their two regular-season meetings, but still the Aggies hold a commanding 11-2 advantage in the all-time series.
The Mavericks made it look easy on Friday night as they opened the meeting with UTSA on a 20-8 run and never looked back. Karol Gruszecki scored a game- high 19 points, thanks to a 5-of-10 showing behind the 3-point line, followed by Jamel Outler with 13 points off the bench in just 15 minutes as he made goof on 3-of-6 beyond the arc. Kevin Butler accounted for 10 points and a team-best seven rebounds as the team shot 50.9 percent from the floor and held the Roadrunners to just 35.3 percent.
A defensive-minded squad, UT Arlington is limiting its opponents to just 62.1 ppg this season, based on 38.6 percent shooting from the floor and only 31.9 percent behind the 3-point line. Butler is the lone double-digit scorer for the group with his 11.1 ppg, but as the Mavericks showed on Friday, there are several players who can answer the bell when called upon.
A balanced scoring attack and a strong defensive effort was just what the Aggies needed in order to drop Texas State on Friday, holding the Bobcats to just 34.5 percent shooting from the floor and 5-of-17 beyond the arc. Sim Bhullar recorded a double-double for the Aggies with 14 points and 10 rebounds, followed by Renaldo Dixon with 13 points and six boards. K.C. Ross- Miller checked in with 12 points and five assists, although he did shoot just 3-of-9 from the floor, followed by Remi Barry with 11 points and five rebounds in only 18 minutes off the bench.
Bhullar, one of four players averaging in double figures for NMSU this season with his 10.1 ppg, leads the team with 79 offensive rebounds, which means he is creating his own scoring chances. However, while shooting an impressive 61.8 percent from the floor, he has knocked down a dismal 46.4 percent at the free-throw line and that has taken the entire group down to a mere 65.8 percent. Daniel Mullings (14.0 ppg), Sy (11.8 ppg) and Tyrone Watson (10.8 ppg) are also key figures on offense for the program.