The UT Arlington mens team opened their only season in the Western Athletic Conference with a 21-point statement win over the defending champion New Mexico State Aggies.Turns out New Mexico State didnt forget about that.In their first and only run through the WAC, the Mavericks won 19 games and made it all the way through to the championship game, but fell just short of making their second NCAA Tournament appearance when New Mexico State held off a late rally Saturday night to win 64-55 in Las Vegas.We were so close, so I just feel awful for our seniors who played with everything they had, coach Scott Cross said.Instead, theyll host Oral Roberts at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, a 32-team tournament that features teams that werent invited to the NCAA or NIT Tournaments.I view it as a reward for a good season., especially when you realize there more than 200 teams that dont get postseason play, Cross said.Expected to take a step back from 2012s record-setting season by losing their top two scorers and joining a tougher basketball conference, the Mavericks came close to winning the WAC torunament.UTAs Karol Gruszecki fouled out with 8:36 to play in the game when he charged into an Aggie defender for what appeared to be a potential three-point play. Instead, he was called for a charge, even though the Aggie defender was still in motion on the play.It was an awful call. That was such a huge momentum shift that took our best offensive player out of the game, Cross said.Gruszecki had been red-hot in the conference tournament by averaging 18 points in the first two games, but he was forced to finish with 11 and watch as the Mavericks couldnt make baskets late in the game.Although UTA looked great with its big win over New Mexico State to open WAC play, the road to the title game seemed unlikely at times. The Mavericks lost their next five home games and endured a pair of losses to WAC bottom-feeders where they never even held a lead. But they kept pace on the road by winning six of their first seven road conference games.While the disappointment of failing to make the Big Dance may linger into an off-season that will force Cross to replace four starters Gruszecki, Kevin Butler, Jordan Reves and Cameron Catlett the Mavericks wont have to worry about exacting revenge or booking another trip to Las Vegas. They head to the Sun Belt, which had a weaker overall RPI this season than the WAC.Butler may be the toughest Maverick to replace but not because he was UTAs leading scorer. Butler was a relentless, high-energy defender that personified Cross pitbull-style defensive scheme.Since UTA opened their top-class College Park Center last February, Cross has been able to sign recruits with more size than UTA is used to getting.Were building a winning culture around here with toughness and intensity, he said. It seems tough to replace your leading guys but when we have a culture where we know what were going to do, it makes that transition a lot easier.
UTA vs. Oral Roberts
7:30 p.m. Wednesday
College Park Center
Records: UTA 19-13, Oral Roberts 18-14