ARLINGTON, Texas -- Nearly eight months ago, when the final buzzer sounded and the UT Arlington men's basketball team fell just four points shy of advancing to iconic Madison Square Garden for the semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament, this Saturday was already on the minds of the team's returning players and coaches.
One would think that a record-setting season that ended in the longest postseason run in program history would have been enough. That head coach Scott Cross and his Mavericks would be satisfied with claiming a few attention-grabbing non-conference road wins and winning a conference title.
Happy, yes. Satisfied? Not in the least.
"Our guys have been working really hard during the offseason," said 12th year head coach Scott Cross, the winningest coach in program history. "From summer workouts to preseason boot camp, our guys have been committed to adapting our program philosophies to their lives on and off the court.
"We were all very proud of the accomplishments we achieved last year. But, that was last year. The reality is that we ended the season a few points shy of doing something extremely special. Our players and coaches are all motivated to try to make sure that doesn't happen this year."
When the Mavericks open the season Saturday night at 7 p.m. (CST) against Loyola Marymount in College Park Center, they will be looking to continue the form that, over the last few years, has transformed UTA into one of the top mid-major programs in the country.
"We have a great group of guys and a veteran basketball team that have helped build the program's culture and expect success," said Cross. "We have a talented basketball team with a high ceiling. If we play the way we are capable of, we can do some great things. Obviously, it is early we still have a ways to go. We have to get more disciplined on both offense and defense."
Clearly, after winning a program record 27 games a year ago and earning their first ever regular season Sun Belt Conference title, expectation for the Mavericks to post another successful year are high -- interesting considering the program lost four popular seniors that were the foundation for the most successful period in UTA basketball history.
Over the last two seasons, UTA has registered the second-most victories of any Division I program in the state of Texas (52) and has claimed road victories at programs such as Ohio State, Memphis, Texas, Saint Mary's (CA) and BYU.
With such an eye-popping resume to their credit, it is no surprise the players' expectations are just as high as the Maverick faithful. With a total of eight seniors on the squad, however, the veteran side recognizes its season will be measured by what happens over the course of the next 5 months. Not, the first few games.
"Expectations for this team are extremely high and that's the way we like it," said senior forward Kevin Hervey, the reigning Sun Belt Player of the Year. "It is important to get off to a good start. It might sound cliché, but, being such an experienced team, we know we have to take things game-by-game. We are focused this week on preparing for Loyola Marymount."
UTA's College Park Center is coming off two of the top five basketball crowds in facility history. A combined total of nearly 12,000 fans attended the Akron and CSU Bakersfield NIT games at the end of last season.
UTA's players and coaches took notice of the enthusiastic crowd support. They are hoping those NIT games, combined with the positive attention surrounding the program this preseason, provide incentive for big crowds to attend this season's home games.
"I've been here for four years now and the crowds have really improved since my freshman year," said Hervey, who led the Mavericks to victory in their first 14 home games before dropping the NIT quarterfinal. "Having a big, supportive crowd is definitely motivating and makes us play harder. We have a talented team that plays hard, fast paced and with a certain style. We believe it is a great basketball environment and fun for our fans to watch. We hope they will continue to support us like they did last year in the NIT."
Cross acknowledges the importance of a big crowd on his team's performance and promises those in attendance will enjoy their experience.
"I think we have one of the most athletic, exciting basketball teams I have seen since I've been here," said Cross, who graduated from UTA in 1998. "We play a fast-paced, high-energy style and there are going to be a lot of dunks and threes. It is certain to be fun for the fans to watch.
"Last year, we won 27 games. The year before, we won 24 games. We went all the way through the regular season without losing a game at home. We have beaten some really big-time programs during that time. I think we can do the same this year and our fan support really makes a big difference. It provides a true home court advantage that I would put up against any place in the country."
Last year's contest at Saturday's opponent, Loyola Marymount, went down to the wire with the Mavericks using a late 3-pointer by Drew Charles to escape Los Angeles with an 80-77 victory. Despite some significant roster changes, Cross expects the Lions to come in to College Park Center with a team that is more than capable of knocking off the Mavericks.
"LMU is well coached, they shoot the basketball really well and they have some talented big guys," said Cross. "Being the first game of the season, we haven't been able to watch them on film yet so there are a lot of unknowns. We do know they are going to bring a very good basketball team and we are going to have to play our best to come out with a win."
HOW TO PURCHASE TICKETS
Full season and single game tickets to attend UTA men and women's basketball events are on sale through the UTA Box Office in person or by calling (817) 272-8585 and online through UTATickets.com. Season tickets are available for as low as $99 for all 30 men and women's games, which comes out to $3.30 per game. Single game tickets are priced at $8, $12 and $25 per game, depending on seat location. UTA students and faculty staff tickets are available for just $5 for a single game or at a reduced rate for season tickets. Discount Maverick Club (season) and general public (single game) parking is also available. Visit UTATickets.com for detailed information.
FOLLOW THE MAVS SOCIALLY
For up-to-date news, photos, videos and updates you can follow UTA sports program online at UTAMavs.com or via any of several social media accounts on twitter @UTAMavs, Instagram @UTAMavs, Snapchat @UTAMavs and Facebook at UTArlingtonAthletics. Follow the UTA basketball programs on Twitter at @UTA_MBB and @LadyMavHoops.
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