WACVegas: Basketball to set stage in conference tournament

March is a special month. Spring break arrives for college students to take time off from school. But in the sports world, it is March Madness time when it turns midnight on March 1 every year.

In their first year in the Western Athletic Conference, both men’s and women’s basketball for Sam Houston reached their respective tournaments. It seems as if there is a ton of pressure on both teams because of that first-year stigma. Here is a look forward as to what to look for as the Bearkats travel to Las Vegas, Nevada for “WACVegas.”

Photo courtesy of Hiram Rodriguez

Bearkat Women’s Basketball

The fact that this team is here is just outstanding. On Nov. 29 of last year, in the middle of this current season, the Sam Houston Athletics department announced that Head Coach Ravon Justice would take an indefinite leave of absence. Assistant Coach Brittany Mason took over the reins, but without Coach Justice, the Bearkats struggled.

The Bearkats went 2-9 without Justice, including a six-game losing streak to begin conference play.

The Bearkats then started turning things around with a road win against the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Vaqueros on Jan. 24, where they won 66-52. It was their first road win of the season.

In their next game, three days later, it was announced that Justice would in fact return to the hardwood and continue her coaching duties. That same day, Justice and the Bearkats knocked off the California Baptist Lancers 73-65. The Lancers had a 23-conference game win streak snapped.

The Bearkats went on to finish 9-9 in conference play, good enough for the sixth seed after the initial 0-6 start.

With the sixth seed, they get a first-round bye, which is huge considering how much resilience they have had to do just to get where they are.

The Bearkats will be looking for their main starting five to get going in order to make a deep run.

One of the key players for the Bearkats heading into the tournament is junior forward Madelyn Batista. Batista is important when it comes to not only scoring (11 points per game) and rebounding (2nd in the WAC with 8.6 per game), but also opening up more opportunities for the other starting four in senior guard Faith Cook, senior forward Courtney Cleveland, junior guard Damaya Telemaque and sophomore forward Kaylee Jefferson.

With Batista roaming the paint, Cook, who was 4th in the WAC in scoring with 15 points-per-game to get open shots at the three-point arc where that is her specialty. This also opens the mid-range game for the others.

Telemaque came alive at the end of the regular season, including a career high 23 points against the UTRGV Vaqueros on Feb. 19. She can not only shoot, but also drive into the paint and get to the free throw line.

Senior transfer guard LeAndra Echi will look to also be a big part by being the defensive asset she has been all season for the Bearkats.

The Bearkats’ run in the tournament will begin on March 9 as they await the winner of the match Lamar Cardinals vs. New Mexico State Aggies. The Bearkats were 1-1 to each of them in the regular season.

Photo courtesy of Hiram Rodriguez

Men’s Basketball

Head Coach Jason Hooten brought his team into a renounced basketball conference and competed with the best of the best all season long. They had a bad start to the year that included tough losses to teams they were expected to win against and close games where they could not find a groove.

Hooten seemed to have had enough of this after a disappointing loss to the Bradley Braves on Dec. 21 where it was a score of 86-61.

After the loss, Coach Hooten kept his players in the locker room for a few hours to talk things over. The Bearkats that night were 4-8. They went 14-5 after that night.

They even started WAC play winning eight of their first 10 games, including winning three in a row at home against WAC giants Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks, New Mexico State Aggies and the Grand Canyon Antelopes.

They finished WAC regular season play at 13-5, which was good enough for a fifth seed, which gives them a first-round bye.

The Bearkats will be led by graduate student transfer forward from Texas A&M Savion Flagg, who has played his way to being a top contender for WAC Player of the Year.

Flagg was 3rd in the WAC in scoring (18.7 ppg) and rebounding (8.1 rpg). While being one of the most athletic players in the WAC, he will knock down the three (35.9 three-point field goal percentage) if left open.

Junior guard Jaden Ray will be there for the Bearkats as the floor general who has really taken over the role. He will be important to setting Flagg and others like senior guard Demarkus Lampley.

Lampley is someone to keep an eye on as he had an off regular season, but it is never too late to get hot and get going starting in the conference tournament.

Junior forward Tristan Ikpe will continue to man the paint as he will be looking to continue his impressive defense and offense.

One player though out of the main lineup that should have eyes on him is junior guard Javion May. As said before on occasion, May will not light up the stat sheet, but he will make as big of an impact on defense as anyone else. See him guarding every team’s best player for most of the game like he did to potential WAC Player of the Year New Mexico State’s Teddy Allen who was only held to only two points. He was leading the WAC with scoring at that point.

The Bearkats as a team have one of the best defenses and rebounding games in the WAC in conference play, they allowed only 61.8 points per game and garnered 36.2 rebounds per game. However, they will need to limit the turnover as they were third worst in taking care of the ball in the WAC.

The Bearkats currently await the winner of the game of UTRGV Vaqueros vs. California Baptist Lancers. They will face the winner of that game on March 9.

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