PROVO — Off to a strong start this season, including a big road win at Princeton last Wednesday night, BYU (2-0) now has a chance to avenge its most recent loss.
That setback happened last March in the first round of the NIT at the Marriott Center against UT Arlington.
The Mavericks led the entire game and shot 63 percent in the first half en route to a dominating 105-89 victory to end the Cougars’ season.
UTA's Drew Charles, who entered the game averaging 7.7 points per game, poured in 28 points, while Kaelon Wilson, who was averaging 8.2, finished with 20. UTA’s leading scorer, Kevin Hervey, scored 20.
Eric Mika led BYU with 29 points and Nick Emery chipped in 24. But the Cougars had 20 turnovers and the Mavericks scored 32 points off turnovers.
The regular-season Sun Belt Conference champions also outscored BYU in the paint, 50-26.
UTA went on to lose in the NIT quarterfinals at CSU Bakersfield.
Months later, BYU and UT Arlington meet again Saturday (7:30 p.m., MST, BYUtv) at the Marriott Center.
A lot has changed for the Cougars, of course, since that bitter defeat. For starters, Mika and Emery aren’t playing for BYU.
Meanwhile, that night against UTA the Cougars were without guard Elijah Bryant, who was sidelined with a knee injury. Both Yoeli Childs and TJ Haws were battling illnesses in that game, too.
And this season, there’s more of a commitment to defense. Saturday’s showdown could be a measuring stick to see how much better BYU is defensively. Last year, the Cougars couldn’t keep up with the Mavericks in a shootout.
In its first two games of the season, BYU has held Mississippi Valley State to 61 points and 37 percent shooting from the floor and limited Princeton to 56 points and 37 percent shooting.
Hervey averages a team-high 28 points and eight rebounds per game for UTA this season. Guard Erick Neal is averaging 14 points and 11 assists.
For BYU, Bryant has scored 20-plus points in consecutive games for the first time in his Cougar career.
Bryant poured in 27 points on 10-of-11 shooting from the floor in the season opener against Mississippi Valley State. In the 65-56 victory at Princeton, Bryant scored 22 points, shooting 6 of 12 from the field and 9 of 10 at the free-throw line.
“I’m an Elijah fan. He’s got the physicality, he’s got the versatility, he’s got the skill and he’s got a big heart, too,” BYU coach Dave Rose said earlier this season about Bryant. “We’ve got to keep him healthy. He could be a really good player for us.”
UT Arlington opened the season last Saturday at home with a 85-80 win over Loyola Marymount.
The Mavericks start five seniors, including 7-foot center Johnny Hamilton who is a graduate transfer from Virginia Tech. He averages 13 points and four rebounds per game.
Another senior center, 7-1 Link Kabadyundi, comes off the bench.
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Cougars on the air
UT Arlington (1-0)
at BYU (2-0)
Saturday, 7:30 p.m. MST Marriott Center
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM