March 16, 2013
LAS VEGAS – UT Arlington's quest for the program's second berth to the NCAA Tournament came up short Saturday night as New Mexico State claimed the Western Athletic Conference championship with a 64-55 win at Orleans Arena.
A 14-4 second-half run by New Mexico State was too much to overcome for the Mavericks, who reached the WAC title game in their only season in the league. UT Arlington moves to the Sun Belt Conference next season.
UT Arlington (19-13) could still receive a postseason invitation. A postseason bid would be the fourth in school history, second in a row and third under head coach Scott Cross.
"We had a little bit of a lull in the second half before we got our energy back," Cross said. "Hopefully our guys will remember this feeling and we'll get to continue our season."
The Mavs started slow, going scoreless through the first four minutes. The pace picked up and UT Arlington cut a 7-1 deficit to 13-12 on Kevin Butler's 3-pointer eight minutes in.
Karol Gruszecki tied the game for the first time at 15-15 with his first 3-pointer of the game. The Mavs took the lead on a Brandon Edwards dunk and added to it with Gruszecki's baseline jumper, going up 19-15.
The title contenders traded the lead for the rest of the half, as buckets were hard to come by against two of the WAC's toughest defenses. A spurt at the end of the half helped the Aggies take a 32-30 lead into the locker room.
Butler had 10 points in the half, as the Mavericks shot 39 percent. The Aggies, who shot 42 percent, were led by 10 points each from Sim Bhullar and Daniel Mullings.
New Mexico State scored the first five points of the second half go ahead 37-30. Back-to-back driving layups by Gruszecki pulled UTA close, but the Aggies reeled off the next nine points to lead 46-34.
Down 51-38, the Mavericks went on an 11-1 run to cut the Aggies' edge to three. The Mavericks suffered a huge loss during the run when Gruszecki fouled out with 8:36 to go. The senior was UTA's leading scorer in the WAC Tournament. He scored 11 on 5-7 shooting against the Aggies.
"It hurt is tremendously because he was trying to will us to victory," Cross said of Gruszecki.
The Mavericks went into final three minutes down 56-51. Edwards' jumper at 2-minute mark to cut the lead to three, but Aggies guard Terrel de Rouen responded with a long jumper as the shot clock was expiring.
Butler topped the Mavericks with 13 points and eight rebounds. Jordan Reves scored 10. Butler and Gruszecki were named to the All-Tournament team.
"We really wanted to win, we all did," Butler said. "We let down at times on defense."
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