Mavs part of RMAC wild basketball ride
Let’s see, Mesa State beat New Mexico Highlands, which beat Fort Lewis, which beat Mesa State, which beat Western State, which beat Fort Lewis …
Any questions on how the second half of the RMAC West Division men’s basketball race is going to go?
Only two games separate the top four teams in the West Division, and the fifth-place team is only one more game back in the loss column.
It’s not that way in the East, where Metro State has established itself as the clear favorite, with a four-game lead on second-place CU-Colorado Springs.
In fact, UCCS, at 8-5, has the same conference record as Mesa State, which sits in fourth place in the West.
The Mountain Lions have won four straight games since suspending Nick Weaver, the leading scorer in the RMAC, for the remainder of the season, to climb up the East standings.
With only three weeks remaining in the regular season, there’s still a lot of room for movement in each division, especially in the West. One loss last weekend dropped the Mavs from second to fourth place.
Mesa State (11-10, 8-5 RMAC) went 5-1 against the West in the first go-round and has its next four games at home, starting tonight against Western State.
The Mountaineers (12-9, 9-4 RMAC) have won three in a row since their forgettable home loss to the Mavericks, when they shot only 25 percent from the field in a 61-39 loss. The Mavs shot only 28 percent in the first half, but recovered in the second half, shooting 65 percent.
Since then, the Mountaineers have shot 41 percent from the field, winning three games on the road and getting right back in the thick of the race.
Mesa State head coach Jim Heaps said before the season began that it could end up being a wild ride in the conference. With two-thirds of the conference season over, he’s being proven right.
Last week, Fort Lewis coach Bob Hofman said he believes the West Division is stronger than the East this season, a reversal of recent years.
“That might be, and yet, we went 3-4 against the East this year,” Heaps said last week before the Mavs split on the road, beating Adams State and losing at Fort Lewis. “Who knows? All I know is we have to show up and play defense and team rebound, and if we do those things we’ll see what happens in the end.”
The Mavs have figured out their identity — a defensive-minded team that strives to hold teams below 70 points.
In their 11 wins this season, the Mavericks haven’t given up more than 69 points. In nine of their 10 losses, opponents have scored 70 or more points. Only Metro State won a game played in the 60s, winning 68-62.
Another trait of late has been Mesa State’s tenacity on the boards. In their five-game winning streak, the Mavs outrebounded every opponent. Fort Lewis had five more rebounds than Mesa State on Saturday and won.
Junior guard Jase Herl had his third double-double of the season against Fort Lewis with 12 points and 10 rebounds, and senior center Kurt Bangle played his best game of the season with 14 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots despite guarding 6-9 senior Kirk Archibeque, who leads the RMAC with eight double-double performances this season.
Mesa State is 6-2 at home, which bodes well for its final homestand of the season, but then again, anything can happen in the West.
“Anybody in this conference is capable of beating anybody else,” Heaps said last week, “I’ll guarantee you that.”