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ARLINGTON, Texas - A pivotal road trip is on the horizon for the Lady Mavericks with a major milestone also in reach through a two-game trip in Alabama.
The Lady Mavericks (10-3, 3-0 SBC) travel to take on South Alabama on Thursday night before a matchup against Troy on Saturday featured on ESPN3. UTA dropped both of the meetings through the state last season, and coach Krista Gerlich knows that there are challenges awaiting UTA.
"They know that this is a tough week and that it is a big trip for us," Gerlich said. "Both games are going to be really exciting and big challenges for us. South Alabama is really big inside so that is obviously going to contrast against Rebekah VanDijk a bit. Some other people are going to have to step up and we are really going to have to be patient with the ball."
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Coming off a 30-point performance in a big win over Texas State, VanDijk inched closer to becoming the 18th player to score 1,000 points as a Lady Maverick. The junior center enters Thursday night with 985 in her career. For VanDijk, it'll only take an average performance to achieve the feat, as she's second in the conference with 17.6 points per game.
"I am really proud of her and that is a great accomplishment for her," Gerlich said. "She definitely needs to be in the record books here, there is no doubt from her first two and a half years here of what she has done. She has earned that right so I am excited for her to reach that milestone and there are many more to come. I know it isn't really important to her, she really wants to win championships, but that is a great accomplishment for her."
VanDijk averaged a double-double against South Alabama last season, scoring 16.5 points per game.
On the defensive side of the ball, it has been a team effort in shutting down the opponent. UTA held Texas State to three separate periods in which they would go without a point for more than five minutes of the game, including the final seven minutes. Despite seeing its streak of forcing 20 or more turnovers come to an end at nine games against TXST, UTA is ranked 15th in the nation at 22.08. A large part of that has been the play of junior guard Cierra Johnson.
Johnson is 16th in the nation with 3.23 steals per game, tops in the conference, and 34th overall with 42 steals. She's been able to turn her great defense into a potent transition offense, averaging 11.9 points per game, 13th in the conference.
"I really like Cierra's game and how well-rounded she has become," Gerlich said. "She came to us as a defensive specialist but has really elevated her offensive play and leadership. Her competitiveness on and off the floor has really helped us and I think she just does a lot of good things that go unnoticed. We aren't the same when she isn't on the floor."
The 2017 Sun Belt Conference Men's and Women's Basketball Championships are scheduled for a week of March Madness in the Big Easy. New Orleans will once again be home to the two championships that will take place at Lakefront Arena from March 7-12 and ticket books can now be purchased from your school's ticket office. For more information, visit the Sun Belt Conference's championship central websites - Men's Championship - Women's Championship - and be sure to follow the #FunBelt on social media - @SunBelt.
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