ARLINGTON, Texas - Opening the season 5-0, spending Thanksgiving in New York City, closing the regular season with a ESPN Top-10 highlight and reaching the Women's NIT. These were all moments that made the UTA Lady Maverick experience in 2016-17.
UTA opened up the campaign with five consecutive wins to earn the best start since 1977. The run of victories over Seton Hall, San Diego State, Western Kentucky, UTSA and Wichita State helped earn the program's first-ever votes in the USA Today Coaches' Poll. A part of the opening run, UTA claimed the SHU Thanksgiving Classic title, led by a MVP performance from Rebekah VanDijk.
The Lady Mavs continued their momentum into Sun Belt Conference play and asserted themselves as a favorite to claim the title. The trek opened with a four-game winning streak before a battle against eventual tournament champion Troy ended the perfect start in league play. During the streak, VanDijk became the 18th member of UTA's 1,000-point club with a clutch performance on the road at South Alabama. UTA followed up the setback to the Trojans however with another four-game run to move within just a game of the top spot.
UTA saved some of its best basketball for a late run in the league. UTA won six of the last seven games with a SportsCenter highlight ending in the finale. After Louisiana made a heroic attempt at a comeback bid, Shelby Richards knocked down a corner 3-pointer to win the game at the buzzer. The shot was featured on ESPN Top-10.
Momentum continued into the postseason with a convincing win in the SBC Quarterfinals against South Alabama. However, Troy would nip the Lady Mavs once again in the semifinals to end the bid to dance in the NCAA Tournament.
UTA received an at-large bid to the Women's NIT, its third in program history, but fell in a heartbreaker to Tulane.
The Lady Mavs finished the season eighth in NCAA Division I for turnovers forced per game at 21.06 and were 17th in steals per game. The effort was led by Cierra Johnson, who was 14th in the nation with 3.1 steals per game, earning her the SBC Defensive Player of the Year award.
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WBB: Louisiana cuts UTA's stay short
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WBB: Pivotal matchup closes regular season