For years, homecoming has been a spring tradition at UT Arlington. Without a football program to unite the alumni base, the Mavericks have relied on basketball to fill that role. Trouble is, Texas Hall was a difficult place for a homecoming atmosphere.
Because of that, homecoming games were usually against Southland Conference opponents -- UT-San Antonio, Northwestern State and Stephen F. Austin, to name a few. It was even tough to bring alumni back to watch a Southland game on a stage.
"We were never able to maximize what Texas Hall could have been," coach Scott Cross said.
But at 7 p.m. Friday, the Mavericks will be host to the Oklahoma Sooners at College Park Center, surrounded by a reboot of the UTA homecoming tradition, complete with a street fair and parade down Pecan Street before the game.
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"It's an unbelievable opportunity to bring a Big 12 team onto our home court," Cross said. "I'm expecting it to be electric in here on Friday."
As the main event of a doubleheader -- the women's team plays Oral Roberts at 2 p.m. -- the Mavericks expect to play in front of a bigger crowd than the 6,228 that watched them beat UT-San Antonio in College Park Center's debut on Feb. 1.
Since the $78 million College Park Center opened, the Mavericks are 4-0 at home.
UTA is surely an underdog to an Oklahoma team that beat Louisiana-Monroe 85-51, but there's no shortage of confidence or talent in Arlington. The Mavericks outlasted Cal State Bakersfield 62-60 on Friday with a final-seconds defensive stand.
"The home team wins about 67 percent of games, so it says something about our team that we can struggle to score points on the road and still win the game," Cross said, acknowledging that his team beat senior-laden Bakersfield with only 24 baskets.
The Mavericks have never beaten Oklahoma, but all five losses have come in Norman, Okla. The last time they met was in 2006, when the Sooners handled UTA 89-60 in Cross' first year. If the Mavericks are able to execute on the defensive end of the floor and get a little more production than they did against Bakersfield, Cross said UTA will beat Oklahoma.
With six years and two conference championships as UTA's coach, Cross has his program headed in the right direction. Athletic director Jim Baker hopes the crowd follows soon enough to see it.
"This is one of those statement games for a program that gets people talking," Baker said. "It's going to be on Fox Sports Southwest, so we can get more eyes on this team. We're not just hoping to win; we're expecting to win."
As if the game isn't enough entertainment for those in attendance, a fireworks show is planned following the game.