The Heartland Conference tournament is back at the Stubblefield Center for the second straight season. But UAFS is hoping this time is better than the previous.
St. Mary’s knocked off the Lions in the championship game last season but UAFS is heading into this weekend’s tournament with plenty of momentum.
UAFS is averaging nearly triple digits over the last two weeks and just hauled in a trio of regular season awards.
Even though they are the league’s top seed, UAFS isn’t overlooking Texas-Permian Basin.
“They’re a really good road team, I know that,” UAFS guard and Heartland Conference player of the year Jake Toupal said. “They are physical and big and really good so we are going to have to be prepared.”
“They’ve got a young man that was up for player of the year,” UAFS coach and league Coach of the Year Josh Newman said. “They’ve got another young man that’s averaging 15 points a game so they are a very dangerous and talented team that we’re going to have to play extremely well to beat.”
UAFS led the Heartland Conference in scoring and senior point guard Xavier McClish said it’s easy to do with so many weapons around him.
“I like finding my teammates in transition, knowing that they’re running on the left side and the right so it’s a good thing to have weapons around me,” McClish said.
The other semifinal matchup won’t lack drama either. St. Mary’s and Texas A&M-International met twice in the regular season with the Rattlers winning both. But St. Mary’s needed triple overtime in the first meeting and then went to double overtime last weekend to help UAFS win the league outright.
“This might be like a 45-44 game because we know each other so well,” St. Mary’s coach Jim Zeleznak said. “We are very similar in style. We are both trying to play physical. We both have strong, physical post players.”
UAFS tips off with Texas-Permian Basin at 5:30 p.m. on Friday.
St. Mary’s, who has won the past two Heartland Conference tournaments, will face TAMIU immediately following.