Another Look At UTA's Mavericks

<p>With their first Southland Conference championship, the Mavericks own not just a league title and a berth in the NCAA tournament, but a premiere opportunity for their school. <p>"She's done it the right way," Texas Tech head coach Marsha Sharp said of her first-round opponent and the Mavericks' women's basketball program.

Capps' pride in her squad extends beyond the court. "Seven Texas teams made the (NCAA) tournament, so there is a plethora of talent in Texas. We try to go out and find the best. You have to be pretty intelligent to make it, academically, at UTA, so that limits some of our choices, but we try to concentrate on kids from the area and it's worked out really well. … We're thrilled to be here, and we want to play well and put on a good show."

"She's been very patient, and gotten kids that I think she felt would run a system like she wanted. She's gotten a lot of kids from the Metroplex and other parts of Texas," Sharp continued. Indeed, the Mavericks' roster this year reads like an honor roll, with representatives from Plainview, Midland Lee, DeSoto, Lewisville, Tyler, Austin, and Cedar Hill as well as Garland, Round Rock, Sugar Land, Carrollton and Houston on board. "They've really built an interest in women's basketball in the Metroplex area."

"They're a well-coached team," Sharp said. "They can really make life miserable for you if you don't do a good job handling their pressure defense."

That pressure defense stars, among others, a pair of seniors: Rola Ogunoye, from Cedar Hill, and Krystal Buchanan, from DeSoto. The 5-7 Buchanan and the 6-0 Ogunoye bring UTA four years' experience.

"Rola and Krystal have been through the fire with me," UTA's Capps said of seniors Rola Ogunoye and Krystal Buchanan. The pair has been integral to the Mavericks' success this year, with Buchanan quarterbacking and Ogunoye completing a career outstanding in the school's record books.

Of course, not all the talent at UTA is as veteran: sophomore Terra Wallace, who earned MVP honors in the conference tournament, does her part too, as does Plainview product Tojjinay Thompson, although this year Thompson's role has been somewhat reduced after an early injury. Thompson, a classic "blue collar basketball player," is a former teammate of Tech's sophomore standout Alesha Robertson.

Making their first appearance in the NCAA tournament – Southland Conference's most seasoned representative is Stephen F. Austin, who has a 10-17 record in 17 trips to the Big Dance – appeared not to have daunted the Mavericks.

"You can't replace experience," Capps said of the primary difference between her program, making its debut in NCAA postseason competition and Texas Tech, a perennial participant. The Lady Raiders come to Dallas for their 16th straight tournament. "We know they have that on us, and tradition. But you have to start somewhere, and the first one always seems to be the toughest, so we feel like we've really helped our program get over that hump.

"We have great respect for the Lady Raiders, and in fact I've watched many many times and supported them."

Of her teams' greater tournament experience, Sharp said, "We certainly are trying to win, and we're trying to advance. That's the first goal you always have.

"I think it really offsets, probably, a little bit -- when you get players to this level, they've all done something special to be here. Whether it's the first time or the hundredth time, there are some things that you probably gain experience by doing. But at the same time, the excitement and enthusiasm you have around a program that's doing that for the first time probably in some ways offsets that.

"That's not to say we're not excited about playing, because we're very excited about being here. But I don't think, this time of year, you gain a lot of advantages there. You know, you hope that your experiences help your team."

Among other things UTA must find a way to offset, Tech has shot-blocker Cisti Greenwalt, a 6-5 senior, at center. Of her sole senior, Sharp said, "She's one of the best defensive players in the country. Right now she probably alters more shots than she blocks. People are a little hesitant to bring it in. I think right now she's playing the best basketball she's played for us in her four years at Texas Tech."

"There is a size difference, but we just try to beat it with quickness. You can't go over them, so you have to go around ‘em. That's pretty much our plan. The game plan does change a little bit just because she's so tall," Ogunoye said. "You don't want to go up (against her), like I said. You pretty much want to go around people like that."

A team sized and styled similarly to Texas A&M's, the Mavericks play a pressure defense. They also have a perimeter shooting percentage of .334, so Tech fans can expect to see hints of Iowa State during Saturday's game.

"We have some good shooters on our team," Tabitha Wesley, the 5-6 senior guard, said. "We have to take those open shots. I think (the three-point shot) plays a very important role for our team."

Maverick sophomore Terra Wallace, a 5-6 guard from Round Rock Leander, said her team's best weapon was its quickness. "We've got to use it to our advantage."

Greenwalt said Friday of the Mavericks, "They match up kind of like A&M would. They're real quick, and we have to post up strong against them." Capps' strategy against the Lady Raiders will involve giving a little ground to Erin Grant at the perimeter, she said. "We're going to try to play her heads-up and try to keep her in front of us."

Although known to be an accurate three-point shooter, Grant is also known to prefer passing the ball to a teammate over scoring herself, particularly from outside, Capps said.

"We're hoping we can keep from having them helping off too much. We know if we let her get down inside, it's all over. The fewer times we let her get loose, the better."


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