GAME NOTES: Former members of the Southland Conference get together at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas on Friday night, as the Texas-Arlington Mavericks tangle with the Roadrunners of Texas-San Antonio in the semifinals of the Western Athletic Conference Tournament.
The fourth-seeded Mavericks had every reason to believe they could make it this far, seeing as how they defeated Utah State in both of their regular- season meetings and then faced the Aggies in the quarterfinals of the tourney on Thursday night. That matchup last night was close, but in the end UTA was able to squeeze out an 83-78 victory in order to advance.
The road for ninth-seeded UTSA began with a 67-49 thumping of San Jose State on Tuesday night in the first round of this event and then continued with a somewhat surprising 73-67 triumph over top-seeded Louisiana Tech last night.
UTA won both of the regular season meetings against the Roadrunners which means the all-time series now stands at 37-29 in favor of UTSA still.
The winner of this meeting will head to the conference title game on Saturday night to challenge the survivor of the Texas State/New Mexico State contest for the right to represent the WAC in the NCAA Tournament.
Louisiana Tech was listed as the top seed in this tournament, but the Bulldogs showed some cracks in the armor late in the regular season so it wasn't totally off-base to think that UTSA could compete in the quarterfinals. But more than compete, the Roadrunners actually won thanks to Kannon Burrage who registered a huge double-double with 26 points and 13 rebounds, hitting on 5- of-8 shots behind the 3-point line. Michael Hale III and Jeromie Hill accounted for 17 and 11 points, respectively, as well as a combined 14 rebounds and seven assists.
Although he is shooting just 38.3 percent from the floor this season, Burrage continues to lead the Roadrunners in the scoring department with 17.5 ppg and is also one of the top men on the glass for the group with close to five rebounds per game. Hale III checks in with 15.9 ppg and also tops the assists list with 111 in his 29 appearances.
Except for Shaquille White-Miller, who finished with a mere three points in 25 minutes of action, every starter scored in double figures for the Mavericks in their win against LaTech on Thursday night. Kevin Butler led the attack with 23 points, followed by Karol Gruszecki with 17 as the duo combined to shoot 7- of-16 behind the 3-point line. Jordan Reves and Cameron Catlett each tallied 12 points, the latter also handing out seven of the unit's 17 assists without a single turnover. The team shot 51.7 percent from the field and suffered a mere six miscues.
The scoring outburst for the Mavericks was somewhat unexpected, seeing as how the program is averaging just 64.0 ppg this season. The only double-digit scorer at the moment is Butler with his 11.1 ppg, thanks to his 40.4 percent accuracy beyond the arc where the team overall is shooting a modest 34.2 percent, compared to only 31.9 percent for the competition.
Considering both of these programs are new to the league, it is a bit surprising that they have made it this far in the tournament. Having won both meetings earlier this season, the Mavericks appear to have what it takes to handle UTSA once again.
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