The UT Arlington men’s team had it all set up to make a statement across the mid-major basketball nation. Entering Saturday’s BracketBusters game against UC Irvine, the Mavericks had won five straight games and finally established a leading scorer in Kevin Butler.
Then UC Irvine came into College Park Center, drained the opening 3-pointer and never looked back in handing the Mavericks their 10th loss of the season with a 77-70 win Saturday.
Coach Scott Cross couldn’t figure out how the fourth-best team in the nation at forcing bad shots couldn’t slow the Anteaters, who rained down eight 3-pointers and shot 51.9 percent from the floor.
“We weren’t reacting at all to the basketball,” he said. “It’s hard to come back and win when you’re not very good defensively.”
UT Arlington’s offense sputtered out of the gate and didn’t catch fire until Jamel Outler took over in the second half. Outler had his best game as a Maverick, scoring 21 points.
“I just had confidence. I was hot, so when the point guards created for me, I just took my shots,” he said.
Greg Gainey kept the Mavs in the game with 10 points and six rebounds in the first half, but his game would be short-lived. While grabbing a missed free throw, he was struck in the eye and had to leave the game. He never returned after being diagnosed with a concussion, and the Mavericks trailed the rest of the way.
UT Arlington couldn’t muster up enough offense to drive past UC Irvine. After a back-and-forth offensive outburst late in the game, the Mavs finished with 35.6 percent shooting.
“On our ball screens, we were just running our patterns instead of trying to execute the score,” Cross said.
Cross switched to a press defense as Outler heated up in the second half, but it backfired. The Anteaters responded to every basket the Mavs made with an easy lay-in at the other end of the court. During an eight-minute span late in the second half, UC Irvine made nine consecutive shots to bury the defeated Mavs.
Outler made it interesting late in the game with his final 3-pointer. After two missed Anteaters free throws, UT Arlington missed a late jumper that would have made it a one-possession game with six seconds left.