Heaps has Mavericks playing for regionals

Mavericks basketball coach Jim Heaps

Reaching the regional playoffs is always a goal of the Mesa State College men’s basketball team.

Getting there is the trick.

“I have a long outstanding history of getting the Mavs to ninth in the region when eight teams go,” Mavericks coach Jim Heaps said. “When six teams went, we’d get to seventh.”

There’s one sure-fire way to reach the Central Region tournament, and that’s what eight RMAC men’s teams, including the Mavs, attempt to do this week: Win the RMAC Shootout.

For the Mavericks, it starts at 7 tonight at Brownson Arena against CSU-Pueblo, which dashed the Mavs’ goal of winning the RMAC West title Saturday night with a 65-60 win in Pueblo.

Mesa State was ranked ninth in the region last week, and despite Saturday’s loss, could move up this week. Eighth-ranked Northern State (S.D.) has lost four games in a row and must open the Northern Sun Conference tournament at Southwest Minnesota State, the No. 1 team in the region.

Several times, Heaps and the Mavs left the RMAC tournament after a loss in the semifinals or title game, hoping their body of work during the season would be enough to get them an at-large bid. In 1999 and 2004, it was. Other times, it wasn’t.

“Quite frankly I don’t even worry about it,” Heaps said. “At the end of the year you watch the show on Sunday night and hope to get in and if not, you understand.

“I’m not smart enough to figure it out. I’ve tried to play a tougher schedule, an easier schedule, more in-region games, more out of region. I’ve heard coaches describe what you have to do.

I’ve tried it all and just can’t figure it out. I can’t. I’ve quit trying.

“One year we went into the tournament sixth and Kearney was 10th and people told me no way Kearney can make it. You could still lose in the semis and still get in. Sunday night, Kearney was sixth and we were out of it.

“I’m not going to spend time worrying about it.”

Instead, Heaps was spending time Monday watching Saturday night’s game at Pueblo.

“I’m watching the game right now and I could see, they were picking up energy as it goes,” Heaps said. “They’re confident and we’re getting down. I don’t know if it was fatigue, mental or whatever, but we didn’t play at an intense level.”

Being at home, where the Mavs are 10-2, should help, and the Mavs have shown the ability to bounce back after losses.

“It’s always hard. You lose a game and you forget the 12 games that came before that,” Heaps said. “After we lost Saturday, I could not remember that game at Highlands 24 hours earlier. It’s ‘what have you done lately?’ This team has responded well to losses and being challenged and hopefully we can bounce back and play well again (tonight).”

If Mesa State wins, it would play either Metro State or CU-Colorado Springs in the semifinals at 4 p.m. on Friday at the Colorado State Fair Events Center in Pueblo. Saturday’s men’s championship game is at 8 p.m., with the winner getting the coveted automatic regional bid.

“Our kids want (a bid). Saturday night we talked that it’s something as a school we’ve never accomplished, we’ve never won the RMAC tournament since we’ve been Division II (1991), and that’s a goal of ours. That’s next on our list.

“One of our goals was to win the West Division and we gave it a heck of a run and didn’t quite get that one. We have an opportunity to win the tournament title and that’s what we’re talking about.”


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