Christmas break allows Mesa men’s team to refocus

Jase Herl, left, puts pressure on the ball handler as he plays defense during practice with the Mesa State College basketball team.

It’s tough to take a break in the middle of the season, but the Mesa State College men’s basketball team hopes to take advantage of it.

The Mavericks returned to practice Saturday in preparation for their first game in nine days Monday when they play Dixie State (Utah) College in St. George, Utah. Tip-off is at 7:30 p.m.

The Mavericks (5-4) play Western Oregon at 5 p.m. on Tuesday in St. George.

“It’s almost like starting over,” Mesa State coach Jim Heaps said. “At the start of the season, you get in to the habit of practice. You look at the first stretch of games and play them and then take a deep breath at Christmas break.  We begin a long stretch of 19 games, it’s almost like the beginning of a new season.

“As a coach (the break) is really good. We’re looking at it like we have two full weeks to prepare for league play. We have three practices, play two games against quality opponents and have basically 10 days of practice before we play another league game. ”

Heaps is pleased with his team’s effort so far this season, but has noticed some trends.

“It’s kind of been a little roller coaster,” Heaps said. “When we play well, we are a good team.

When we don’t play well, we’re a bad team. We don’t have enough pure basketball ability to not play well and still win games.

“Now, I don’t think we’ve played our best. We can play better. Number one, we’ve got to defend. If we don’t, we’ll get beat bad. If we hold teams under 70, we have a real good shot to win.”

Mesa State is 5-1 this season when it holds opponents under 70 points. The only loss came last weekend at Metro State and the Mavericks were within two points with less than a minute left in the loss.

The defense is especially important since the Mavericks aren’t getting scoring from the bench Heaps expected.

A big part of that is the absence of Sean Flohr. The junior forward has a bulging disc and stress fracture in his back. He is out four to six weeks, Heaps said.

“We’ve got good kids; they play hard and defend pretty well, but we’re not getting as much scoring from the bench,” Heaps said. “We’re still getting quality minutes from those guys.

Otherwise, it’s about where we thought we were. We just need to get a little bit tighter fundamentally and execution-wise.

“It’s not going to be a pretty team. It’s not going to be a high-flying group. It’s much more blue-collar, down in the trenches doing what it takes and that’s fine with me. We are what we are.”

Mesa State’s opponents are similar to the Mavericks in that the Rebels and Wolves run the motion offense, but they both have a size advantage over the Mavericks.

Dixie State (4-5) has a victory over a top-20 program in Central Washington and defeated Western Washington. The Rebels have also defeated Nebraska-Kearney this season.

“They’ve played a hard schedule,” Heaps said. “They played the first month of the season on the road. They beat Western Washington, which is an outstanding team and beat a top-20 team in Central Washington. They are a legit team. They have an outstanding coach and run their stuff well.”

Western Oregon (5-2) comes in on a three-game winning streak.

“They’ve lost a couple close games,” Heaps said. “Both of the teams are similar to RMAC teams. They will help us prepare for the RMAC. They are comparable to Metro, Kearney and Fort Lewis.”


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