Perhaps building on momentum from convincing wins over Texas and North Texas last week, the Mavs used a solid 40:00 of swarming, collapsing defense and precise execution of Coach Scott Cross’ unguardable pinball-style offensive attack to defeat #12 St. Mary’s 65-51.
It was their seventh win in a row, and their first win over a ranked team in the school’s history and adds to the argument that even if UTA doesn’t win the conference tournament, at least so far this season they’ve proven themselves worthy of an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
The Mavs (8-3) used a 18-3 run in first half to establish a big lead that was 13 at halftime (36-23). UTA got off to another great start for the second half (similar to UT and North Texas games) to add to the lead, up as much as 20 at 11:30 in the second half but the Gaels (7-1 with wins over Stanford and Nevada) would make a run of their own to get as close as 11 but the game never really seemed in doubt in the final 5:00 or so.
This might have been UTA’s best defensive performance in recent memory. The Mavs forced 15 turnovers, leading to 23 points. Despite good ball movement by St. Mary’s, every pass was contested. Most drives to the paint quickly defended by 2 or 3 Mavs. Threes were contested. The Mavs had more rebounds (36-30) and steals (10-4). And this effort was continuous for a full 40 minutes. And any time the Gaels made a couple of baskets and the momentum was about to change, the Mavs had an answer with a three or a quick basket or two of their own and never really let the crowd become a factor. The Gaels were held to just 31% shooting, and 8-27 from outside (30%).
On the other end of the floor, the offense was executed to near perfection, seeming to be a step ahead of the Gael defense most of the night. The Gaels have a tall, athletic team but as we’ve seen many times, UTA used crisp passing to find those better-than-good scoring opportunities for higher-percentage shots. And the 10 steals/15 turnovers lead to easy baskets as well. The Mavs had a great shooting night, going 25-51 for 49%. They also outrebounded 36-30. Kevin Hervey had 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting with a three pointer and four free throws and got 7 rebounds; Erick Neal had 13 points and 8 assists; Kaelon Wilson had 10 points on 4-5 shooting.
Up next: at Bradley (4-5) next friday