The Western Athletic Conference regular season is over. Fourteen games are now in the books for both men’s and women’s hoops.
While the regular season is wrapped up, both teams have a chance to extend their season in the WAC Tournament in Las Vegas. The tournament runs this weekend at Orleans Arena. It follows a single-elimination format, meaning every game someone is moving on and the other is out.
UTRGV men’s basketball has had four conference wins in 14 attempts. The team will only need to win four games during the conference tournament to be crowned WAC champions. However, three wins against teams all seeded higher than them is a tall order. The men’s team has only won consecutive games once since the season started in November.
Assistant Coach Jai Steadman said that it’s an opportunity to overwrite the regular season.
“At this point everyone is 0-0, so it gives you the chance. Viva Las Vegas! Good things can happen, you can either go broke, or you can win the WAC tournament,” the assistant coach and former RGV Vipers assistant said. “Pretty much everyone in the tournament we have a chance to beat. You’ve seen each other, you’ve scouted each other twice. The third time goes around, whether you’ve lost twice or maybe beaten them twice, the opportunity to upset somebody is huge in this tournament.”
Four of UTRGV’s five starters are averaging double digit points. The only outlier, Dan Kimasa, is averaging 9.8 points per game.
The balance offense will need to catch fire at Orleans arena if they want to surprise teams in the tournament.
Graduate forward Dakota Slaughter looks forward to a conference tournament where anything can happen.
“Every game counts and, if you think about it, every possession matters. You’ve been working all year for moments like this,” said Slaughter, a transfer from the University of Alabama. “This is where your mental toughness and the bond that you’ve created with your team gets tested. Anything can happen in March, that’s why it’s March Madness.”
Women’s basketball kicked off the WAC season rolling through its opponents. Five games and five wins had the Vaqueros in a good spot through Jan. 22. Larry Tidwell’s team was averaging 13.9 point victories over this stretch.
In their next eight games, only three were wins. The second half of the season was dramatically different. Of the seven teams they compete against in the conference, UTRGV only swept two opponents, Chicago State University and Grand Canyon University. One of those teams, Grand Canyon, is ineligible for the tournament. The other has the last-place seed locked up heading into Vegas with only two conference wins.
It’s tough to tell which version of the 2015-16 Vaqueros will show up Wednesday through Saturday. Coach Tidwell said it speaks on the parity of the conference they play in, but feels his team is capable.
“This is a balanced tournament, a very balanced year,” Tidwell said. “We’re going to be OK, we’re ready to play this tournament. The only way we’re going to win is if we play great defense, and it starts with Rickell Preston. She’ll get us going defensively.”
Preston, the senior, echoed the importance on defense as a way to ensure strong performances.
“I feel like everybody as a team, as a collective whole, needs to go out there and give 100 percent,” Preston said. “Play together, share the ball, be resilient, stuff like that. I feel like if [Shawnte’ Goff] gets down we have more people who can step up until she has the chance to get back into her flow. Like Coach Tidwell says, it starts with defense, that’s mainly our game.”
Lastly, she said she wants to leave a mark at UTRGV, knowing these may be her last games. She recalls the championship game loss a season ago against New Mexico State and wants to improve on that.
“I feel like the only thing I’m taking into the tournament with me is that we lost the championship [last year] and we could have won that,” Preston said. “We all have to come and play our best game and give this university what they really need, and that’s a championship.”
How to watch the Vaqueros in Vegas
All games in the rounds leading up to the finals will be broadcast on the WAC Digital Network. The women’s final will be broadcast at 3 p.m. Saturday, followed by the men’s