By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay
UTSA’s last practice before the holiday break showcased a team that maybe doesn’t reflect its record. The Roadrunners are 5-6 as they prepare to host the Black Knights from Army West Point tonight at 7 at the Convocation Center.
Only four of their five victories have come against Division I competition, so, realistically speaking, much work remains to be done before the Roadrunners can assure themselves that they are ready to compete at a high level in the American Athletic Conference.
In a Wednesday afternoon practice, though, the Roadrunners took a step in the right direction. It was a small step, but they looked fresh. Bouncy. On their toes. They showed off a pace-of-play dimension that wasn’t always evident a month or even a few weeks ago.
The five-on-five session featured guards Christian Tucker, Adante’ Holiman and recently-activated Jordan Ivy-Curry racing through traffic and kicking passes out to the perimeter for threes. Or dumping it off to big men for easy looks.
On one play, Holiman drove into the lane on a burst. Leaning forward and low to the court, the sophomore from Oklahoma lofted a left-handed pass above the rim for an alley-oop slam. In their last outing, the Roadrunners didn’t make enough of those plays to win. On Sunday, they fell in a heart-wrenching 66-65 road loss to the Oregon State Beavers.
The Roadrunners found themselves locked in a slower-paced, low-possession game against a Power 5 opponent in which they came up short by inches. Ivy-Curry couldn’t finish at the rim with five seconds left, and the Beavers walked off with the win despite trailing for three-fourths of the game.
Tucker, who leads the AAC in assists with 5.7 per game, said the Roadrunners are eager to turn the page after the loss.
“After the Oregon State game, obviously we were a little disappointed with the result,” he said. “”Looking back at it, we all know that we played really well. It was probably the most effort we’ve given in a game. But, we still didn’t get the result. (Now) we have a great opportunity to bounce back against Army. We’re all excited for that.”
For the first 10 games of the season, the Roadrunners played without Ivy-Curry, who was sitting out by NCAA rule after transferring twice in his career. Earlier this fall, UTSA appealed in hopes that the NCAA would grant him a waiver. No such luck. Two such appeals were turned down.
Now, thanks to a court case in West Virginia that went against the NCAA, Ivy-Curry and guard Juan Reyna were added to UTSA’s active roster last week. Reyna didn’t get in the game at Oregon State, but Ivy-Curry made an impact, producing 11 points, seven assists and five rebounds.
As a result, UTSA has hope with three of the quickest guards that they’ve had in recent years.
“We’ve been preaching to play a lot faster this year,” Tucker said. “I think we’re trying to take that into account, to get up and down a lot. Not putting our heads down when the other team scores. Just getting out in transition. It’s really good to have Juice back back. He can be a really good piece for us. He definitely can contribute to that fast-paced offense.”
Over the past week, the Roadrunners have had a few early wake-up calls and have spent quite a bit of time in airports. They traveled to Arkansas for a Dec. 13 game against the Little Rock Trojans and then returned to San Antonio the next day. Then after a few days of practice in San Antonio, they boarded a longer flight for Corvallis.
UTSA coach Steve Henson said players have handled it well.
“Both trips to and from were very long days,” Henson said. “But I thought (Tuesday’s) practice was very good. Maybe not quite as animated, not quite as vocal, but in the heat of the battle I thought it was a pretty good practice. I thought we got a lot done. Today (Wednesday) was better. More vocal. More intensity. A good competitive day. Two good days, actually.”
A subtle change in practice format came on Dec. 13 when Ivy-Curry put on a blue jersey, signifying that he would be running through drills as if he were in the playing rotation for games. A few days later, UTSA officials monitoring the court case were able to get clarity on whether to clear the ineligible players, giving Ivy-Curry and Reyna the opportunity to travel to Corvallis.
Henson said Ivy-Curry’s presence in workouts is noticeable.
“He does get from Point A to Point B very, very quickly,” the coach said. “He’s highly conditioned. In practices we’ve gone real long — intense, long practices — he really starts shining at the end of practices with his conditioning level so high. So, yeah, he gives us a spark in that regard.”
Army at UTSA, today, 7 p.m.
Prairie View A&M at UTSA, Dec. 28, 7 p.m.
UAB at UTSA (American Athletic Conference opener), Jan. 2, 8 p.m.
After a disappointing home loss to Jacksonville State, Ala. last month, UTSA guard Christian Tucker said he wanted to do more to help the team. He is making good on that vow by improving his three-point shooting. In the past three games, the Arizona native has knocked down nine of 14 shots from beyond the arc, boosting his accuracy rate to .412 percent for the season. He is a .311 shooter from three for his career.
Forward Massal Diouf has played only 97 minutes in 11 games this season, including only two minutes at Little Rock. But the 6-foot-9, 240-pound forward from the Netherlands came alive a few days later at Oregon State with 10 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots. More surprisingly, he hit five of six shots from the floor. Also, his rebounds and blocks were career highs. Henson said he encouraged Diouf to be ready, “and sure enough he got in there and helped us in so many ways.”
UTSA guard Juan Reyna fell and hit the floor in a drill in Wednesday’s practice, momentarily leaving the court to receive attention from a trainer. He later returned and finished the workout.
Reyna, a newcomer to the UTSA roster this season, said in an interview last week that he was born in San Antonio and attended Hutchins Elementary in the South San School District. Later, he attended Zamora Middle School and St. George Episcopal school before moving on for two years of high school at Antonian College Prep, where he played under coach Rudy Bernal.
Reyna finished high school at Duncanville, completing a prep career in which he won state in both private school basketball at Antonian and for Duncanville, a state-school power. In college, he attended Alabama State as a freshman (in 2021-22) and Campbell, S.C. (2022-23) before transferring in the offseason to UTSA. In high school, Reyna helped lead Antonian to a TAPPS state title in 2019. “So, there’s just a lot of pride playing here (in San Antonio, at UTSA),” he said.
When Reyna gets into a game for the Roadrunners, he will become one of only a handful of players from San Antonio high school boys basketball programs to play at UTSA. Two of them, Devin Brown (from South San West Campus) and Keith Horne (from Sam Houston), rank among the program’s all-time scoring leaders.
Army will arrive at the Convocation Center tonight with a team co-captain in guard Kwabena Davis from Steele High School in Cibolo. Another familiar face will be Army assistant coach Carson Cunningham, previously the head coach at the University of the Incarnate Word.
Army freshman Josh Scovens produced 31 points, seven assists and four steals Sunday in a 78-74 overtime loss at home to Stony Brook.