Mavs ready for tough road trip in RMAC West
The Mesa State College men’s basketball team completed one major obstacle.
Now, the 17th-ranked Mavericks (13-1, 7-0 RMAC), who swept the RMAC East Division teams for the first time in school history, tackle another obstacle. Mesa State begins play against the RMAC West Division with possibly the toughest road trip yet. The Mavs play at 8 p.m. Friday at New Mexico Highlands and 8 p.m. Saturday at Colorado State University-Pueblo.
“It’s maybe (the toughest road trip) ever,” Mesa coach Jim Heaps said. “We’re talking about two very good teams, hungry teams in the hunt, teams that are desperate to win in hard places to play. This is what the RMAC is all about; these kinds of games. It’s a toughness tester.”
Heaps knows his team will be up for it despite playing a little flat Saturday in its 81-71 victory over the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs.
“I’ll say to them, these kind of games are why you play college basketball,” Heaps said. “You don’t play college basketball for the non-conference match-ups. You play to play the conference teams on the road with big crowds and a lot of intensity in the air.
“I think our team’s biggest attribute is being competitors.”
New Mexico Highlands won the RMAC West Division last year and was picked to win it again this season.
The Cowboys (9-6, 3-4 RMAC) have struggled in RMAC play, but Heaps believes the team is finding the magic it had last year.
“They’re probably as talented as anybody in the conference,” Heaps said. “They had a situation early, where they had some kids who weren’t eligible until the semester. Their chemistry was missing. They lost some games early. They didn’t have everybody. They haven’t been together long enough. They have everybody back now.”
Highlands has most of its starters back from last year and added Division I transfer Chop Tang, a senior from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Senior Roman Andrade leads the RMAC in scoring with 23.7 points per game. The Cowboys lead the RMAC in scoring with 86.9 points per game.
“They want to force the tempo, pressure you full court, push it up the floor and shoot early,” Heaps said. “They want to score a lot of points.
“You don’t want to go into New Mexico Highlands and try to run with them. We know we don’t want to run with them.”
CSU-Pueblo (9-5, 4-3 RMAC), on the other hand, is fine playing a slower tempo. The ThunderWolves are second in scoring defense behind Mesa. They allow 68.1 points a game.
“They remind me a lot of us,” Heaps said. “They are an older group that has been together a while and plays well together. They’re defensive-minded and run their stuff well.”
“They have nice talent, balanced inside and out.”
Chris Busch, a power forward, leads the team in scoring with 15.9 points per game.
Mesa State (3-9, 2-5 RMAC) played its most complete game this season Saturday in a victory over the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs.
“That’s the best we’ve played at both ends of the floor for 40 minutes all year long,” Mesa coach Roger Walters said. “We ran some clock and played really intelligent. We can’t get in track meets with people. We don’t have the horses to do that. For the group we have, we played at a high level.”
Now the Mavericks will attempt to win their first road game this season at 6 p.m. Friday at New Mexico Highlands. Mesa plays at 6 p.m. Saturday at Colorado State University-Pueblo.
“Any team that is successful, is able to transfer what they do on the practice floor to the game floor like we did,” Walters said. “If we can continue to do what we did Saturday, we’ll be competitive with everybody and we’ve been pretty competitive with everybody.”
Highlands (7-7, 2-5 RMAC) snapped a four-game losing streak Saturday with a 67-65 victory over Regis. The Cowboys defeated UCCS 68-59 earlier this season for their other RMAC victory.
“They are really athletic,” Walters said. “They’re going to come out and pressure us and get after it. They have shooters and a big kid. They are a quality team.”
CSU-Pueblo (10-5, 6-1 RMAC) is off to its best start in RMAC play in coach Kip Drowns’ five years.
“They are well-coached, with a good balance of inside and out,” Walters said. “They are tougher than nails.