The way the UT Arlington men’s basketball team has pulled off its 5-1 start to the season is a product of the coach Scott Cross’ blueprint.
Win with defense, and have fun on offense.
They’ve done just that in big road wins at Ohio State and Memphis, and now the Mavericks will try to go 3-0 in “money” games when they travel to Austin to face the young Texas Longhorns at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Having never beaten the Longhorns, this year’s team has the best chance they’ve ever had.
Never miss a local story.
“We’re going in as confident as can be,” Cross said. “We’re going to play as hard as we can and be as physical as we know we like to play.”
Before going off for a season-high 92 points in Sunday’s win over Rice, the Mavericks shot just 36.4 percent in their first five games of the year. They found ways to secure big wins behind a foundation of second-chance points and defensive tenacity.
When it comes to securing extra scoring opportunities, the Mavericks have more than doubled what opposing teams have been able to do. UTA has 119 second-chance points in six games this year, and opponents have managed only 51.
And despite the lack of anyone over 6-foot-8, the Mavericks are outrebounding opponents 45.7-38.3 per game. With a stable of 6-foot-7 wing players, UTA is slashing into the paint and securing rebounds without a conventional big man.
Of course it helps to have Kevin Hervey, who’s become a playmaker for the Mavericks. Scoring 17.7 points per game, he’s coming off a career-high 27-point performance against Rice where he grabbed 15 rebounds in the process.
He led all scorers on a night the Mavericks found their offensive groove. They made 10 3-pointers having only made 24 percent entering the game, and never let the Owls within eight points after taking a big halftime lead.
“I had a feeling it would happen. It’s nice that it fully opened up for us,” Cross said. “I just told them to have fun and relax on offense.”
And the fact that they didn’t let up is an encouraging sign for such a young team.
“When you get up eight or 10 points, you relax a little bit on defense,” Cross said. “That’s just human nature, but I thought we responded to it really well.”
The Longhorns (2-3) are loaded with NBA-caliber players, such as Isaiah Taylor, who’s scoring 15 points and dishing out 4.8 assists per game in Shaka Smart’s first season as coach.
Texas returns home after the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament where they went 1-2, securing a payback win over Washington and losing to Texas A&M and Michigan.
The last time UTA opened a season 5-1 was just five years ago in 2010, but there’s a stark difference between the two seasons. The Mavericks nabbed home wins against Hardin-Simmons and St. Edwards that year, and ended up losing 15 of their last 23 games.
Road wins over Ohio State and Memphis are a much bigger deal, and their first win over Texas would give them their first 6-1 start since starting 8-0 in 2007-08, the same year they made the NCAA Tournament.
UTA men at Texas
7 p.m. Tuesday, Longhorn Network