UTSA takes on WKU Wednesday in the CUSA Tourney

UTSA plays Wednesday in Western Kentucky in the first round of the 2017 Conference USA Championship Tournament in Birmingham, AL.

By JJ Perez
For InsideRunnerSports.com

UTSA Basketball has a long history of making runs in conference tournaments. From the days in the Southland to even in the one season in the WAC, the Roadrunners have historically played their best in March.

But for the last three seasons, it’s been one and done for UTSA in the Conference USA Tournament. Coming off one of their better performances of the season, the ‘Runners are looking to ride that momentum into an extended stay in Birmingham.

"Our guys are really excited,” first-year Head Coach Steve Henson said. “We've been talking about this for weeks. We want to finish the season strong and finish the season feeling good."

Finishing the season strong is exactly what UTSA did this past Saturday. The Roadrunners scored a resounding 73-55 win against one of the hottest teams in Conference USA, Old Dominion.

"We're confident with that last win over ODU," Guard Gino Littles said. "That was a big one for us. We're focusing on working hard and going in to shock the world. We’re not a team they want to see in the first game."

UTSA enters the CUSA tournament as the #9 seed. The Roadrunners face #8 seed Western Kentucky in the first round of the tournament on Wednesday.

This will be the second meeting between the two schools this season. On January 28, WKU handled UTSA 81-66 in Bowling Green.

“That’s a big, mature, physical group with a couple of fantastic players,” Henson said of WKU. “They mix up their defenses. It will be a great challenge for us.”

Even though the game was just over a month ago, UTSA still remains confidence because of the improvements they’ve shown since.

"I think we’re playing a much different now than we were then, especially from a confidence point,” Henson said. “We have a bunch of guys feeling better, we have a bunch of guys making shots right now. I think our guys are excited to play right now. We go into this ballgame feeling very, very good.”

Forward Lucas O’Brien echoed Coach Henson’s sentiment on how things have changed since late January.

“I think we’re a lot different. The way we are going about our zone is a lot different now. I feel like we’re a lot more fluid team after our going against Old Dominion. I think we’re in a perfect spot to make a move in the tournament,” said O’Brien.

WKU is led by Forward Justin Johnson, who averages 14.5 points per game and leads CUSA with 9.2 rebounds per game. The Hilltoppers have two other players, Pancake Thomas and Que Johnson, who score in double figures.

“We’ll have to key in on some of their people, they have a couple of terrific players,” said Henson. “We’ll have to do a job defensively and on the boards. But I expect our guys to fight pretty hard in those regards.”

Tip off from Birmingham is set for 11:30am on Wednesday. The game will be broadcast online with Campus Insiders (LINK) and can be heard on the radio on Ticket 760 (LINK). 

NOTABLE QUOTES
Henson on preseason expectations
“People congratulated us for qualifying for the conference tournament. We appreciated that and were very proud of the achievement, but that’s not something we ever talked about. Our sights were set much higher than that.”

Henson on the season
“The challenge is always to come as close to maxing out as possible. If we look at it from that standpoint, we feel like we came very close, regardless of what happens. Our guys have accomplished so much.”

O’Brien on WKU
“They’re tough. I remember we had a lot of good opportunities on offense that we just didn’t follow through on. I think this game around we’ve really got to focus on getting through some screens and just being aggressive.”

O’Brien on improvement from last season
“I’m not necessarily surprised, I’m just excited. It’s something where coach has done a great job. I’m just happy with how it’s gone.”

Littles on the team’s confidence
“Our confidence is sky high right now, energy is good. We look like a team that wants to win.”

Littles on playing the underdog role
“We like that, we embrace that. We know that we are a good team.”

UTSA CUSA TOURNAMENT PREVIEW VIDEO


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