They were in it for a half against the top-ranked team coming into the season, and senior forward Brandon Edwards finished with a career-high in points after another double-double performance.
That’s what UT Arlington intends to take away from its visit to Rupp Arena, rather than what became a 105-76 loss to Kentucky on Tuesday night.
The Mavericks outrebounded the Wildcats 21-17 in the first half, and trailed by only single digits going into the break.
Dreams of a possible upset faded quickly in the second half, though. Kentucky opened the half on a 13-3 run and had an 11-0 spurt to put the game out of reach.
The rebounding battle turned in the second half, as well, with the Wildcats dominating the boards 29-13.
Kentucky (5-1), after all, showed why it’s a strong contender to reach the Final Four in Arlington come March, but UTA (2-3) has to feel like it can build off its performance and be a force in the Sun Belt.
“I saw a lot of great things out of our guys,” Mavs coach Scott Cross said. “Kentucky responded really well in the second half and absolutely mashed us on the boards.
“There are a lot of positives, but of course a loss is a loss.”
The biggest positive coming out of the game was Edwards, who continues to make strides. He was active in the paint all night, grabbing five rebounds in each half.
Edwards also knocked down his shots, going 9 of 15 from the field. His third double-double of the season included a career-high 24 points and 11 rebounds.
“It means a lot to me to get a double-double against the [preseason] No. 1 team in the nation,” Edwards said. “But I got to keep doing it on a daily basis.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari even praised Edwards’ play when answering his first question afterward about his team’s energy level in the first half.
“My whole thing was an energy level where you had Brandon Edwards just going and smashing the boards and just taking balls out of our hands,” Calipari said.
UTA actually didn’t start too crisply in the opening half with a pair of shot clock violations and weak fouls in the first six minutes. It appeared Kentucky might put the game out of reach before it even really started, too, by taking a 21-8 lead.
Kentucky’s James Young had three 3-pointers in a 3:30 span, but the Mavs responded.
UTA went on a 9-0 run to cut the deficit to 21-17 with 8:36 left. Two minutes later, UTA made it a one-possession game as back-to-back 3s by Edwards and Reger Dowell pulled it to within 28-25.
Kentucky called a timeout and had a renewed energy by scoring 12 straight, although UTA closed the half well to get back within 42-33.
Dowell had 20 points and Vincent Dillard had 13.
UTA continues its long road trip by going to Moon Township, Pa., for a game against Robert Morris on Thursday, and then to Ypsilanti, Mich., for a game against Eastern Michigan on Saturday.
“We have to figure out a way to get a couple of wins in this tournament before we go back home,” Cross said.