The University of Texas-San Antonio and Texas State take to the hardwood for the first time this season with 0-6 WAC records. Texas State has lost nine straight. The Roadrunners have lost 11 of their last 12 contests.
Over the past five seasons, Texas State has won six of the 10 meetings between UTSA in the Interstate 35 rivalry game. The average margin of victory has been 8.8 points per game, with five of the games being decided by six points or fewer. Last year, the series was split 1-1 with Texas State winning the most recent game 66-52.
“It’s going to come down to execution,” said Coach Doug Davalos. “Whoever can execute their offensive and defensive game plan better, and really in a rivalry game, it comes back to those 50-50 balls. Rivalry games come down to the little things, because usually the effort is pretty even on both sides.”
Last year, senior forward Matt Staff ran the Roadrunners out of their own stadium with a then-career high 28-point scoring effort along with 12 boards and six assists. Staff shot 11 of 14 from the field.
In the Bobcats’ most recent game against University of Texas-Arlington, Staff struggled shooting, going one for three from the field for two points and gave up two turnovers in 16 minutes of play. Staff is Texas State’s second leading scorer and rebounder at 12.2 points per game and 5.6 rebounds per game.
“Matt has to keep playing Matt,” said junior transfer Joel Wright. “He’s been really aggressive during the start of the season, and teams realized that (Staff and I) are a major factor of this team. The double teams started coming, and we had to learn to handle (them). Matt is a big part of our offense and a big part of our team. I have strong confidence in him that he’ll come around.”
Most often in rivalry games, there is a contrast in style and play. UTSA typically has a four-guard set, while Texas State’s line up is more standard, consisting of two post players. How the guards and posts handle the mismatches defensively will be key.
“They’re really tough to guard,” Davalos said. “If you look at their percentages, they’re all shooting well. They all can put the ball on the floor and penetrate. The question is, ‘Can their guards guard our ‘bigs’ better than our ‘bigs’ can guard their guards?’ It’s going to come down to a contrast of wills.”
Three of the top four scorers and rebounders for the Bobcats are the forwards and center. Wright is averaging 16.4 ppg and 6.7 rpg, leading the team in both categories. In conference play, Wright is currently ranked third in scoring at 18.3 and first in three point percentages by shooting 77.8 percent.
UTSA is led in scoring by senior guards Kannon Burrage, 17.4 ppg, and Michael Hale III, 15.3 ppg. Burrage scored a career high 29 points in UTSA’s loss on Jan. 12 to Louisiana Tech. Junior guard/forward Jeromie Hill didn’t play due to a knee injury suffered in the first half of the Jan. 10 UT-Arlington game. Hill was the third leading scorer for the Roadrunners with 13.3 ppg. In Hill’s absence, junior guards Hyjii Thomas and Jordan Sims filled in combining for 30 points against La Tech.
This past Sunday was the Bobcats’ first day off after a game this season, but the team hit the hardwood Monday and Tuesday for workouts. Wednesday and Thursday practices initiated the main preparation for I-35 rival UTSA.
“In practice, lately, we’ve been having (it) pretty tough,” said sophomore guard Wesley Davis. “But today coach gave us kind of an easy practice. He’s trying to get our minds not completely tied to basketball. So, we had some competition and stuff to help us get motivated for the game and to get our confidence level right. I think we’re ready for UTSA.”
Despite the nine-game losing streak, players are not reaching for the panic button. The coaching staff and players said they are sticking to the course and staying true to their game plan.
“We’ve just been ourselves,” Wright said after practice. “It’s UTSA. There’s nothing we have to change in what we’re doing. We got great guards that can defend. We got great big men that play hard every night. I mean, it’s just another game. We can’t change what we’ve been doing the whole year just for UTSA. It’s a dog fight. We both have the same record. It’s just who wants it more.”