UT Arlington is taking aim at its first Sun Belt Conference tournament win in the Krista Gerlich era in Wednesday’s opening-round matchup against 3-seed Louisiana Lafayette.
For the Mavericks (15-15), the Sun Belt tourney sets up just like it did last year, against an opponent that swept them in the regular season. But the team sees a few reasons that this could be the year UTA breaks out and advances.
“I would bet my paycheck this group will never give up,” Gerlich said after the Mavs’ 80-70 loss to Troy to end the regular season.
The Mavericks have a tendency to dig themselves a hole against good teams with one poor quarter of play like they did in the second quarter against Troy, when UTA was outscored 18-9, but the flip side is apparent, too. The Mavs won the second half in that game but not by enough to erase a 14-point halftime deficit.
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Sun Belt women’s tournament schedule
“We can be really dangerous,” point guard LaShanda Green said. “People might tend to underestimate us because we haven’t played to our full potential yet this season. If we bring it to the conference tournament we can surprise a lot of people.”
Both senior Amara Wainwright and sophomore Rebekah VanDijk have hit their stride offensively as the season has waned, at times providing the effective inside-out attack that Gerlich envisioned for her bunch. Wainwright hit a combined 10 3-pointers and has scored 20 or more in each of the final two regular season games.
What has held the Mavericks back lately has been injury, most notably to sophomore guard and Hurst L.D. Bell graduate Cierra Johnson, who missed six games with a stress reaction in her foot before returning for the regular season finale against Troy. Going 7-4 down the stretch kept UTA relevant in Sun Belt play, but being able to do it without Johnson, and without backup point guard Miranda LeJune and starting forward Toma Zaleckaite for shorter periods, could point to the Mavs’ ability to put together a postseason run.
People might tend to underestimate us because we haven’t played to our full potential yet this season. If we bring it to the conference tournament we can surprise a lot of people.
UTA point guard LaShanda Green
What doesn’t point in that direction are the results from the two previous matchups with ULL (20-9). The Ragin’ Cajuns dealt UTA two double-digit losses, one of which came in the Mavericks’ first game without Johnson, its defensive catalyst, on Feb. 18.
“We were shaky, they got off to a big start and we didn’t respond,” Gerlich said of the 59-42 loss. “We’re going to have to rebound a lot better and we can’t send them to the free throw line like we did in that game.”
UTA joined the Sun Belt before the 2013-14 season and last advanced past the first round of its conference tournament in the 2009-10 season when the Mavericks were in the Southland Conference under Samantha Morrow.
UTA women vs. Louisiana Lafayette
7:30 p.m. Wednesday, New Orleans
Sun Belt women’s tournament
1 Arkansas State vs. 8Appalachian State, 11:30 a.m.
4 Troy vs. 5 South Alabama, 2 p.m.
2 Little Rock vs. 7 Texas State, 5 p.m.
3 UL Lafayette vs. 6 UT Arlington, 7:30 p.m.
Arkansas State-Appalachian State vs. Troy-South Alabama, 11:30 a.m.
Little Rock-Texas State vs. ULL-UTA, 2 p.m.
Championship, 7 p.m.