Hoop dreams must wait
Basketball teams fall just short of NCAA Tournament
Slowly, Texas Hall is becoming known as much for its basketball as the Christmastime production of The Nutcracker. Television cameras beamed the UTA-Stephen F. Austin men's game to five states Feb. 14, and the women made their first-ever TV appearance at Northwestern State 12 days later. The crowds swelled as both teams became legitimate contenders for the Southland Conference championship and an NCAA Tournament berth.
Combined, the teams tallied 36 wins--sixth in Texas for Division I programs. The men's team won 17 games for the first time in 13 seasons, and the Lady Mavs had their most successful season since 1981-82 with a 19-12 record and a trip to the SLC Tournament championship game before losing to Northwestern State, 78-71.
"I think you can see that we're taking our game to the next level," said men's coach Eddie McCarter. "We had a special group of kids who came together at the end of the season and were probably the best team in our league the last half of conference.
"Winning the school's first championship means a lot to me and to the guys. They stayed together all season long. They didn't blame each other when things weren't going our way, and it paid off in the end."
The men lived up to preseason billing, claiming a share of the SLC regular-season title for the first time since joining the league 40 years ago. After a slow start in conference play, the Mavericks rode a school-record nine-game win streak to a share of the crown with Southeastern Louisiana and U.T. San Antonio as well as the No. 1 seed in the SLC Tournament. A three-pointer with 4.9 seconds left by Stephen F. Austin's Antonio Burks stopped the Mavs in the tournament semifinals, 69-68.
Senior forward Derrick Obasohan became the first UTA player since Damon Johnson in 1996 to make first-team all-SLC. Senior Donny Beacham was named third-team all-SLC, and sophomore forward Steven Thomas was an honorable mention selection. Beacham and senior center Roy Johnson were named to the league's all-academic team. Both maintained better than a 3.0 grade-point average and finished their careers in the top 10 in numerous individual categories.
"We are slowly getting our program to that next level," she said. "I was proud of our team and the way we played in the conference finals, although it was a tough loss because every player and coach's dream is to play in 'the big dance.'
"Overall, it was a satisfying season since we were able to break through some barriers. We were able to get some great exposure playing on television for the first time, we had our first all-academic player, and we were very competitive against top programs like the Big 12."
The Lady Mavs were one of the youngest squads in the country, and four starters will return next season, including first-team all-SLC pick Rola Ogunoye and Krystal Buchanan, the school's all-time assist leader. Ogunoye is ranked sixth on the all-time scoring list with 1,180 career points. She also became the first Lady Mav named to the SLC's all-academic team.
Overall, 11 players return, and Texas Tech transfer Ashley Bobb will also be eligible.
"Funny, I don't see us as a real veteran team," Capps said. "Having Krystal and Rola back are real positives, and we're excited about [junior guard] KaShayla Hawkins and [freshman guard] Terra Wallace returning next year. I love being picked third or fourth in the league, knowing that you have the ability to be No. 1."
The Maverick Maniacs would love nothing more.
— Bill Petitt