As the UT Arlington women's basketball team enters the fourth year of the Krista Gerlich era, it looks like the team maybe finally renewing the talent and/or results of the Donna Capps era. The team is now 5-1, with many wins that would qualify as character victories.
There are many parallels to Gerlich and Capps, who took over with a low talent program and suffered a loss-heavy first season. Capps was 6-21 in 2000/01. Gerlich was 4-25. Capps was a game under .500 in year two while Gerlich was 17-13 in the sophomore season. The 13 win improvement is best in the UTA record books, besting Jody Conradt's 12-win improvement from 1974-75 to 1975-76. Capps reached the winning season in year three with a 15-13 mark. Gerlich declined a bit, thanks to a lot of extraneous factors, but was still competitive at 15-16. In the fourth year, Capps was 19-12 and third place in the Southland Conference.
That 2003-04 team won the first two games of the season before dropping five in a row to the likes of SMU (71-74), Michigan (51-68), TCU (73-43), Nebraska (59-81) and Saint Mary's (73-66). They would win 17 of the next 24 and make it to the SLC championship game, where the team lost to Northwestern State for the right to play in the NCAA tournament.
This year's team however, has looked much better to start.
I love the opening day opponent, especially in women's basketball. UTA and UT San Antonio had some epic battles starting in the mid 2000's. These two teams moved themselves to the upper echelon of the sport in the SLC. That led to some great conference tournament games. UTA lost to the Roadrunners in 3 OT's in 2006, beat the 'runners en route to an NCAA tourney berth in '07, UTSA beat UTA en route to their NCAA tourney berth in '08 as well as '09, and UTA beat the I-35 rival in 2010. The first basketball game ever at College Park Center was the women of UTA and UTSA. They moved to the Western Athletic Conference together and have met every in non-conference play since the forces of realignment separated the two.
The Mavs turned dominating performance in the 1st and fourth quarter on their way to a 75-54 win. Sophomore transfer Christina Devers made her presence known in her Maverick debut as she scored 21 points, one of four Mavericks to score in double figures.
One of the grittiest performances of the year came in the second game on the road to Western Kentucky. The Mavs trailed by as much as 17 points in the first quarter and began to chip away at the lead, which they finally gained in the fourth quarter. They led for only one minute of the game, but it was the most crucial minute as the Mavs took a 71-68 victory. Rebekah VanDijk, the Sun Belt's preseason player of the year, earned her first double-double of the year with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Devers was once again the Mavs leader with 15. With that win, UTA started making appearances in the polls of the voters of the mid-major top 25. WKU was the pre-season pick to win the conference and is receiving votes in the coaches top 25 poll.
Up next was Wichita State at CPC. VanDijk notched another double-double and for the third time in as many tries, Devers led UTA with 22. UTA had the lead most of the affair, but the Shockers kept it close. It was another character-building win, proving these Mavs have the ability to win the close games.
UTA traveled to Seton Hall for a Thanksgiving Tournament. UTA won both their game against San Diego State and Seton Hall to win the tournament. The SDSU game was not as close as the 64-58 score would have shown, while the 86-61 Seton Hall score was every bit as the score indicated. Once again, VanDijk was one of the most dominant players, with 14 points against SDSU, tied with Devers for the team lead. However, against Seton Hall, she exploded with 34 points and 11 rebounds.
That weekend gave UTA some national attention as the Mavs were listed in the also receiving votes in the USA Today coaches poll.
The Mavs returned home with a game against former rival Stephen F. Austin. The Ladyjacks had a bit of revenge on their mind as the Mavs beat them in Nacogdoches last year, snapping a 17-game home winning streak.
Well SFA returned the favor and snapped UTA's five game winning streak, thank in large part to the free throw line, on both sides. As a team, UTA was a paltry 11-24 from the line. Meanwhile, SFA made 34 free throws attempts, converting on 25 of them. UTA managed to tie the game up at 60 late in the fourth, but SFA used a couple of successful offensive and defensive possessions to win 65-60.
I'm not going to sit here and say the loss isn't painful. In the SLC, SFA was our main rival and I never enjoy losing, especially to them. But, I am going to hope this loss is a good wake up call. This is a promising team with a great chance to win the Sun Belt title. Even Coach Capps lost 89 games. Thankfully, she won 30 more and I think this team will have something to brag about at the end of the year.
Next up is Kansas State on the road Wednesday at 7 pm.