COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Falcons prepare for tough schedule

It was a mix of good and bad for the UTPB men’s basketball team following its weekend series against Arkansas Fort Smith.

The good: The Falcons were able to match a program-best start at 6-0 with a victory Saturday. The bad: The team saw the perfect record vanish after the Falcons fell 81-74 to the Lions on Sunday.

During a virtual press conference Monday, head coach Josh Newman said that even though his team played well in Saturday’s 77-67 victory, how his team finished the game proved to be the difference Sunday.

“We were up by 20 and then we kind of put it in cruise control the last three minutes and that probably gave them some confidence going into the next day,” Newman said. “On Sunday, I just thought our team’s energy and our attention to detail wasn’t the same.”

Newman acknowledged that his team is still a work in progress and not at full strength with three point guards and transfer center Dadou Traore out due to injury or COVID-19 protocols.

He credited guards Jordan Horn and Jay Workman for filling those roles admirably. Horn scored 23 of his team-high 29 points in the second half of Sunday’s loss to go with six rebounds and four steals. Workman — a Kermit High graduate — had his best game on Dec. 19 against Cameron with 15 points to go with three rebounds and two assists.

Newman also added that he’s trying to enjoy the little things such as matching the program-best start. The focus remains on the bigger picture.

“If you would have told me that you’re not going to have a point guard for the first seven games and that you’re going to be 6-1, I would have said you’re crazy because everything runs through them,” Newman said. “I don’t want to take anything away from the guys. They’ve done great but we’ve got some guys that are playing out of position so to accomplish that I think it’s awesome.”

Newman added he hopes to get a couple players back in time for this weekend’s series at Texas A&M-Kingsville beginning at 6 p.m. Friday followed by a 4 p.m. tip Saturday.

The series begins an eight-game stretch where the Falcons will play Lone Star Conference teams ranked or receiving votes in the NABC Division II men’s basketball poll.

After facing the Javelinas, UTPB is slated to face No. 3 West Texas A&M, No. 9 St. Edward’s and No. 25 Dallas Baptist all in consecutive weeks. Newman says the conference “is probably the best I’ve seen it.”

“The next eight games are going to be challenging,” he said. “As a coach, you never want to blow up a loss but it showed some things that we’ve got to fix immediately before we go into an extremely difficult stretch against some very good basketball teams.”

>> BACK TO WORK: After waiting for what seemed like forever, the UTPB women’s basketball team finally got to take the court for the first time in conference play against Arkansas Fort Smith. Unfortunately for head coach Rae Boothe, it was not the result she was looking for from her team.

The Falcons lost twice over the weekend and Boothe said that she’s hoping to get more from her team.

“I think not having those early games really hurt us and we’re gaining game experience with a fairly new squad,” she said. “For the most part, we’re still learning and I’ve hoped we’ve learned enough from this weekend to be better.”

One bright spot that Boothe mentioned was the play of freshman point guard Avalon Munoz. Munoz finished with four points and a team-high three steals in Sunday’s loss and it was her hustle and effort that left a strong impression on Boothe.

In fact, Boothe confirmed that Munoz would start Tuesday’s game against Cameron in a game that had been postponed in December due to COVID-19 protocol. The Falcons and Aggies tip off at noon.

 “Her effort created a spark,” Boothe said. “Hopefully, she can get us going from the opening tip. Hopefully, it’s a great message to send to our team that it starts with effort. No matter what we’re going to do, we’ve got to play a lot harder than what we did in the first 37 minutes of that game Sunday.”

The women’s team also will travel to Kingsville for a series against the Javelinas Friday and Saturday.

>> FINDING THE ROTATION: Boothe said that the rotation is still being worked on through the first three games of the season and that all the other starting spots were open from Tuesday’s game apart from Munoz. She did confirm that the Falcons would be without junior forward Alexis Popham and senior Bri’An Washington Tuesday due to injury.

“It should make for good competition in practice,” she said. “We need to find a flow and unfortunately we’re learning that in conference play but we’re thankful to be practicing and ready to go up this roller coaster.

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