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Men’s basketball climbs rankings of mid-majors

Thursday, December 15, 2016

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The UTA Mavericks men’s basketball team has soared to a No. 3 ranking in the CollegeInsider.com poll of mid-major colleges in the nation following a first-ever victory over a Top 25 team.

Erick Neal

Erick Neal, point guard for the UTA Mavericks men's basketball team, goes up for a shot against Saint Mary's College last week in California. The Mavericks beat the then No. 12-ranked team in the country.

UTA beat previously No. 2-ranked mid-major and nationally ranked No. 12 Saint Mary’s College of California, 65-51, last week. The Mavericks follow only Gonzaga and Wichita State in that mid-major poll.

UTA also is ranked No. 18 in the NCAA’s 2016-17 Ratings Percentage Index rankings. The RPI is one of the tools used by the NCAA Selection Committee to evaluate teams. It is updated daily.

The team travels to Illinois Friday for a match with Bradley.

Head coach Scott Cross said the publicity for the team and the University is great but it’s important to focus on the next game, too.

“I’m extremely proud of the progress our team has made, but we still have a long way to go in order to achieve our goals,” Cross said. “For our program to have success in league play, we have to win games and develop as a team early in the season.”

The Mavericks have run off seven straight since finding themselves early in the season.

“Beating Texas in Austin was definitely something our guys can be proud of. Then, knocking off a top 25 team for the first team in program history certainly provides confidence,” Cross said. “Obviously, our primary goal is to win our conference and play in the NCAA Tournament. We are continuing to improve, playing with toughness and character and maintaining the discipline it takes to have success.”

The accolades have poured in from across the nation.

College basketball broadcast legend Dick Vitale gave a shout out to UTA in his ESPN column. The excitable Vitale wrote: “How about a salute to UT Arlington. Last season, the Mavericks beat Memphis and Ohio State. This season, UTA has knocked off Texas and now Saint Mary’s. Scott Cross has done a great job coaching this team. Sun Belt foes need to take some notice.”

NBC Sports also crowned UTA with “Team of the Week” honors after its decisive win against Saint Mary’s.

UTA point guard Erick Neal earned the Lou Henson Award national player of the week honors after leading the Mavericks to an impressive victory over Saint Mary’s last week. Neal turned in a 13-point, 8-assist effort at Saint Mary's. Neal posted 13 assists against UT Dallas with no turnovers earlier in the week.

Forward Kevin Hervey was named the Sun Belt Player of the Week the week before when he posted solid performances against UT Austin and North Texas.

This year, though, it isn’t just Hervey and Neal providing the Mavericks with the winning edge.

Junior Guard Nathan Hawkins said the team has a great chemistry.

“A lot of us who aren’t starting, when we’re at the table ready to come in, the starters are supportive of us coming in and helping the team,” Hawkins said. “Having guys that pull for each other is great. It’s not about individuals. It’s about the name on the front of the jersey, not the back.”

Coach Cross gives the fans credit, too, when College Park Center is full.

“The games when this place is packed provide an absolutely amazing atmosphere,” Cross said. “We’ve had three or four games where we’ve had 6,000 to 7,000 and it’s as good as any atmosphere in the country. It just gives your guys energy.”

Cross said before the season started that in addition to wins and making sure the players graduate, growing the student-athletes into young men is very important as well.

“We spend a lot of time working with our guys, talking about what’s going on in the real world, where people make mistakes and how they can do better,” Cross said. “We spend a lot of time trying to mentor to the guys so they can be successful.”

About The University of Texas at Arlington

The University of Texas at Arlington is a Carnegie Research-1 “highest research activity” institution. With a projected global enrollment of close to 57,000 in AY 2016-17, UTA is the largest institution in The University of Texas System. Guided by its Strategic Plan Bold Solutions | Global Impact, UTA fosters interdisciplinary research within four broad themes: health and the human condition, sustainable urban communities, global environmental impact, and data-driven discovery. UTA was recently cited by U.S. News & World Report as having the second lowest average student debt among U.S. universities. U.S. News & World Report also ranks UTA fifth in the nation for undergraduate diversity. The University is a Hispanic-Serving Institution and is ranked as the top four-year college in Texas for veterans on Military Times’ 2017 Best for Vets list.

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