Thirty-five points.That’s all the UT Arlington basketball team could muster when Denver came into the College Park Center and lulled it to sleep in a 50-35 win on New Year’s Eve, handing the Mavericks their worst offensive performance since 1989.But having won nine of their last 11 games, the Mavericks head to the high altitude of Denver to try and make a statement in the regular season’s final week at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Magness Arena.“They are the best defensive team in the WAC,” coach Scott Cross said. “They give you nothing easy.”High praise from the coach of a team that holds opposing teams to a 37.3 shooting percentage. But while both teams play strong defense, they’re entirely different styles.While UT Arlington dedicates its defensive effort on energy and forcing contested shots, the Denver defense is set up by its offensive game plan. Intent on shortening the game, the Pioneers play an extremely slow pace of basketball.Opposing teams have only attempted 1,296 shots — 183 less than the 1,479 taken against the Mavs — which have kept the scoring average down for both Denver and its opposition.Add their penchant for the 3-pointer, and you have a team that can kill you slowly.The first time around, Denver made 11 of 35 3-point attempts. Although the Mavericks held the Pioneers to just 50 points, UTA couldn’t find an open shot all day.“I’m going to look really hard at the Denver tape and try to figure out a way to score a little bit easier on them,” Cross said. “We will try and play faster against them.”It’ll be a tall task to take on, but with the offensive emergence of Jamel Outler and Karol Gruszecki, UT Arlington has a few different options at various spots on the court. The Mavericks aren’t a prolific scoring team but have managed to average 69.3 points over their last eight games.UTA (17-10, 11-5 WAC) has the fourth seed in the WAC Tournament sewn up, win or lose. But New Mexico State (19-10, 12-4) hosts Louisiana Tech (26-3, 16-0) Thursday night. If NMSU loses, UTA’s game in Las Cruces on Saturday would be for third place since UTA won the first meeting and would have the advantage in a tie-breaking situation.If Denver tops UTA and New Mexico State beats Louisiana Tech, Denver could grab a share of the WAC title with a win Saturday at home over Louisiana Tech.
UTA at Denver
8 p.m. Thursday
Magness Arena, Denver
Records: UTA 17-10, 11-5 WAC; Denver 19-8, 14-2
Radio: KKDA/730 AM