UT Arlington was already a confident basketball team. But after beating No. 12 Saint Mary’s Thursday night — and it wasn’t even much of a fight — the Mavericks’ confidence is soaring.
It was the first time UTA had beaten a Top 25 opponent in 29 tries.
The Mavericks (8-3) have won seven consecutive games, including an 11-point win at Texas on Nov. 29, the first win over the Longhorns in program history.
“We definitely played off our momentum we got at Texas but like Coach said, we’re a confident bunch,” said Kevin Hervey, a junior from Arlington Bowie. “We believe if we play harder than whoever we’re playing against we have a chance to win the game.”
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This is nothing new for the Mavs under Scott Cross, who has been the head coach at his alma mater since 2006. UTA had wins over Memphis and Ohio State a season ago when they went 24-11.
Their three losses this season came in consecutive road games at Minnesota, Florida Gulf Coast and at Arkansas. UTA led all three at halftime, and lost at Arkansas by four.
Thursday night against the Gaels in Moraga, Calif., about 25 miles east of Oakland, was a different story. The Mavericks led for most of the game and won 65-51. Saint Mary’s (6-1) went 29-6 last season, including 20-1 at home, and reached the National Invitation Tournament quarterfinals.
1-28 UT Arlington’s record against Top 25 teams. The Mavericks’ first win came Thursday night against No. 12 Saint Mary’s in Moraga, Calif.
“I felt like it was going to take our best basketball game to beat them, but if we did play our best we could beat them and I think that’s what transpired,” Cross said. “That’s as good as we’ve played all year.”
Saint Mary’s entered the game shooting 53 percent from the field, second best in the nation. UTA held the Gaels to 31 percent shooting and had a 36-30 rebound advantage.
It shows us the potential of this team. If this team plays this way, they are capable of doing some special things.
UTA coach Scott Cross
Hervey, the preseason Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year, led the Mavs with 15 points and seven rebounds. Erick Neal had 13 points and eight assists, and Kaelon Wilson scored 10 points off the bench.
“The three games we lost earlier this season kind of prepared us for this moment,” said Wilson, who is from Lancaster. “We lost some leads and [Thursday’s win] shows that we’ve matured over the season. If we keep it moving, keep playing defense the right way and be unselfish on offense ... we have the formula, we know what we have to do to win.”
UTA next plays at Bradley in Peoria, Ill., at 7 p.m. Dec. 16. The Mavs head west again Dec. 22 for their last nonconference game at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles. They don’t play at home again until their Sun Belt Conference opener against Coastal Carolina at 4:30 p.m. Dec. 31 at College Park Center.
“We have a lot of confidence but our confidence comes in the amount of work we put in, how hard we play and how hard we practice,” Hervey said. “That’s where our confidence comes in.”
It was huge. That gave us a huge confidence booster, letting us know what we’re capable of.
UTA junior Kaelon Wilson
Cross said he wants his team exuding confidence but will make sure it doesn’t become overconfident. The Mavs won a program-best 24 games last season, but the one and only NCAA Tournament appearance came in 2008, Cross’ second season.
The players appear to have already gotten the message. The reaction to Thursday’s upset win had a mix of sheer excitement and business as usual.
“It was a little bit of both. It was business as usual but at the same time Saint Mary’s was ranked in the top 15 and it’s never been done in program history, so we made history and that was a great feeling,” Hervey said. “Our main goal is to win the next game. Our ultimate goal is to reach the NCAA Tournament, to win our conference. But we try to look at it one game at a time.”