As the middle of the Sun Belt Conference bunches together in the standings, Saturday’s game at Louisiana-Lafayette presents UT Arlington with an opportunity for a win that would potentially do wonders for the Mavericks.
UTA (11-9, 5-6 Sun Belt) has won two in a row, including last Saturday’s 70-67 nail-biter against Troy, and is tied for sixth in the conference, a game and a half behind La.-Lafayette (15-6, 7-5) with nine regular-season games left.
“The parity right now in the Sun Belt makes these games huge,” UTA coach Krista Gerlich said. “We’re really working hard toward positioning ourselves for a strong finish.”
With a rare week off between games, that hard work has been on the practice court, something that Gerlich and her young team have welcomed.
“We needed to get them some rest,” Gerlich said. “And with this team we still need that teaching time.”
In overcoming 31 turnovers in the victory over Troy, the Mavericks showed resilience despite still having much to learn. In Lafayette, UTA will see a team with a trapping, pressing defensive approach, similar to Troy.
Guards Kia Wilridge (12.7 points, 5.2 rebounds), Jaylyn Gordon (14.2 points) and Keke Veal (12.2 points, 3.5 assists) lead the Ragin’ Cajuns in scoring and in shot attempts, many coming in transition after forcing turnovers. Lafayette, winners in seven of its last nine games, leads the Sun Belt in turnover margin (+7.05). UTA (+2.15) is fifth.
Taking better care of the ball will be paramount in getting a win at the Cajundome, but for the Mavericks, every shred of success the team has had this year has started on the defensive end of the floor, where UTA allows an average of only 54 points a game.
“Shots fall and then they don’t fall sometimes, but getting stops on the defensive end is a constant for us,” Gerlich said. “We’re definitely going to have to stop their guards, make them shoot contested jumpers and hit the glass hard.”
If the Mavs can manage the pace at Lafayette, the half-court game might offer an advantage inside for 6-foot-5 freshman center Rebekah Van Dijk (13.1 points, 10.3 rebounds per game. The Ragin Cajuns don’t go much taller than 6-feet in the post.
UT Arlington women
3:15 p.m. Saturday,
Cajundome, Lafayette, La.
Records: UTA 11-9, 5-6 Sun Belt; La.-Lafayette 15-6, 7-5.