Mavs refuse to give up

Mesa men always play hard, regardless of circumstances

Jeff Hart and the Colorado Mesa men’s basketball team don’t let turnovers get them down. The Mavs are OK with turnovers as long as they continue to play hard. Mesa plays Fort Lewis today in the RMAC Shootout semifinals in Pueblo.


RMAC Shootout

CMU vs. Fort Lewis, 5:30 p.m., today, Colorado State Fair Events Center, Pueblo

Championship, 3 p.m., Saturday

Notes: This is the second consecutive season Mesa and Fort Lewis have met in the RMAC tournament. The Skyhawks defeated Mesa 74-66 in the first round of the RMAC tournament and again in the NCAA tournament. “It’s a rivalry,” Heaps said. “It’s like Duke and North Carolina in their conference tournament. Both teams know each other. It’s going to be a close game. Both teams will play really hard and battle.” Fort Lewis defeated the Mavericks 60-51 last week in Durango. Mesa defeated the Skyhawks 69-53 earlier this season at Brownson Arena. ... Fort Lewis won the RMAC Shootout title last year for the second time in four years. The Skyhawks are led by seniors Matt Morris (15.0 points per game) and Matt Billups (12.9 ppg). RMAC regular-season champion Colorado School of Mines (25-2) plays No. 4 seed Nebraska-Kearney (16-11) in the other semifinal at 1 p.m. today. The Lopers handed Mines one of its losses earlier this season in Kearney, but the Orediggers got revenge a month ago in Golden.

No matter what happens, the Colorado Mesa University men’s basketball team has found a way to stay in the game and give itself a chance to win.

Despite having 25 turnovers Tuesday night, the Mavericks found a way to defeat the No. 12-ranked team in the nation in a must-win RMAC Shootout quarterfinal game.

The Mavericks committed 20 or more turnovers 10 times this season. They won five of those, including Tuesday at Metro.

“We didn’t play that well,” CMU junior guard Jeff Hart said. “We turned it over a lot, and we gave up a lot of offensive rebounds. The only reason we won that game is we played our butts off. We never gave up. We could’ve easily folded a lot of times, but we didn’t. We scraped it out.

“We had a win against Adams at our house when we still turned it over a lot. If you’re turning it over, as long as you’re staying aggressive, it’s a lot different than turning it over and becoming hesitant and cautious ­— then you lose that swagger. We knew we were going to turn it over, but we knew if we stayed aggressive we’d give ourselves a chance.”

At times, Colorado Mesa coach Jim Heaps has wanted to pull his hair out over the giveaways, but he knows his team will play hard and likely have an opportunity to win.

“The kids don’t always play great, but they always play hard,” Heaps said. “I think there have been a lot of times this season, we could very easily throw in the towel and they never have.

“Even when we lost games, we’ve been down, fought back and had a chance to win. That’s a sign that the kids don’t quit. That’s what’s gratifying to me.”

The Mavericks (15-12) play Fort Lewis (16-11) in the RMAC semifinals at 5:30 today at the Colorado State Fair Events Center in Pueblo. The winner advances to the RMAC championship game at 3 p.m. Saturday.

The tournament champion receives an automatic berth to the Central Region tournament, the first round of the NCAA Division II national playoffs.

Unranked in the region, the Mavericks must win the RMAC tournament to advance to the eight-team regional.

Mesa has never won the RMAC Shootout title, but Hart believes the Mavs can do it this season.

“You can feel it now, the vibe, the way everyone’s talking,” Hart said. “We fully expect to beat Fort Lewis Friday night and go into the championship. We feel like we have a great chance to make history and be the first (Mesa men’s) team to win an RMAC championship.”

Fort Lewis has had a similar season, winning hard-fought defensive games one night, then losing heartbreakers the next.

“Our records are identical, we’ve split. They’ve lost some close, tough road games,” Heaps said. “It’s almost a mirror image of our season.”

That could be said of Nebraska-Kearney (16-11), which plays top seed Colorado School of Mines (25-2) in the other semifinal at 1 p.m. today.

The second-ranked Orediggers are in position to host the Central Region of the NCAA tournament, but Mesa, Fort Lewis and Kearney will almost certainly need to win the conference tournament to get in the NCAA tournament.

Anything can happen, but one thing’s for sure — the Mavericks will show up and compete.

“There is no difference between Kearney, Fort Lewis and us,” Heaps said. “They’ve got to win the tournament, we’ve got to win the tournament and Fort Lewis does.

“It’s a year that really reflects how the conference was this year. The fact Metro could lose at Western and here on the same weekend ... the league was so even. With the exception of Mines, there were a lot of good teams. It was a war of attrition.”


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