By Art Garcia | @ArtGarcia92
NEW ORLEANS - UT Arlington begins its postseason Thursday against in-state rival Texas State in the opening round of the Sun Belt Conference Championship. The Mavericks and Bobcats tip off at 5 p.m. at Lakefront Arena and on ESPN3.
UTA (16-14) and Texas State (13-16) are familiar foes, having squared off 62 times dating back to 1984. The Mavericks lead the all-time series 32-30, including a two-game sweep during the regular season.
"We're really excited about the opportunity to play here at the Sun Belt tournament," UT Arlington coach Scott Cross said. "We've been a little banged up with injuries, so we have been a little shorthanded, but our guys are looking forward to the new season that lies ahead of us.
"We know that every single game is going to be an extreme challenge for us, but at the same time we know if we play UTA basketball, we have a great opportunity to win every single one of them. It was a great year for the Sun Belt. I felt from top to bottom the conference was extremely tough and very, very even. I think that shows with the conference records of every team, but I am looking forward to this week."
The Mavericks finished the conference season 10-10, while the Bobcats went 7-13. Texas State led the Sun Belt in fewest points allowed during at the regular season at 60.0. UTA did average 68.0 points in the two wins over Texas State.
The Mavericks are without two critical pieces in guards Johnny Hill and Drew Charles, who were both lost to season-ending injuries. Senior forward Greg Gainey missed the last game of the regular season with an injury.
UTA and Texas State both go into the tournament on two-game losing streaks. Defense figures to be the key for both sides.
"We're going to have to create some turnovers and get some transition baskets, especially since we are undersized due to injuries," Cross said. "They are a very, very good team defensively in the half court. We're going to have to do a great job of rebounding and boxing out, just all the little things that go into it.
"We're going to have to get steals and deflections with our defense. If we're not active, if we're not flying around, it's going to be hard for us to beat anyone. So I think that's what we're going to have to do in order for us to be successful."
The Mavericks can only count on those suiting up, including All-Sun Belt Conference second-team selection Lonnie McClanahan. The senior guard is playing his best basketball of the season, averaging 14.8 points, 4.0 rebounds and 5.3 assists over the last eight games.
Freshman guard Erick Neal scored in double figures in five consecutive games from Feb. 14-28 after doing so twice in previous 21 games. He averaged 15.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists over that stretch. Senior guard Jamel Outler is averaging 16 points over the last five games.
The UTA-Texas State winner faces Louisiana on Friday in the quarterfinals.
NOTES: UTA is 7-6 all-time in conference tournaments under Cross dating back to 2007. Mavs are 1-1 all-time in Sun Belt Championship (2014). ... UTA is 1-0 vs. Texas State in the postseason (83-79 in 1993 Southland Tournament). ... UTA is playing a neutral-site game for first time this season. ... UTA hasn't had a losing conference season since 2010-11. UTA is 45-27 in league play over the last four years.
RADIO HOME: Radio broadcasts are on KKGM 1630 AM and sister station KHVN 970 AM. Broadcast includes a pregame show 20 minutes before tip and a postgame show. Josh Sours is the play-by-play voice of the Mavericks.
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