UTSA needs to rediscover that winning feeling

UTSA guard Austin Karrer knocks down a three from the corner last Saturday against Florida Atlantic.

Whatever happened to the free-wheeling, fun-loving, high-scoring UTSA Roadrunners?

You know, the team that started the season 8-6 and 1-0 in Conference USA?

Well, that’s a good question, considering that UTSA (9-10, 2-4) now faces a pivotal home-game test Saturday night against the UTEP Miners.

It seems weird to call any game in mid-January as pivotal or critical.

But with UTSA slumping so badly, and with state-rival UTEP (7-11, 2-4) in the house threatening to pile on the misery, it certainly has that feel.

To recap recent events, UTSA has lost three in a row and four of five.

During that skid, the Roadrunners have also lost three straight at home by a combined total of eight points.

As UTSA coach Steve Henson said following the team’s last game, a 73-69 loss to Florida Atlantic, the Roadrunners need to find some answers fast “because it doesn’t get any easier.”

On Saturday, UTEP comes in with its own track record of adversity, having undergone a mid-season coaching change and a spate of injuries.

So, for those reasons alone, the Roadrunners can’t afford another letdown at home.

Especially against the Miners, who always show up at the Convocation Center with some of their own supportive fans.

This time, though, UTSA also needs to play well because of what comes next.

Namely, four straight games against teams regarded as the most talented in the conference.

Next week, the Roadrunners hit the road to play Middle Tennessee and Alabama-Birmingham.

After that, they return home to face Marshall and Western Kentucky.

By the time that set of challenges ends on Feb. 3, only seven games remain before the C-USA tournament.

Only two teams out of 14 in the C-USA do not make the tournament, which means it’s nearly inconceivable that UTSA would be left at home when the conference congregates in Frisco from March 7-10.

But the more games a team can win between now and then, obviously, the higher seed it can expect.

And with the higher seed comes an easier path, theoretically, to the tournament title.

Making a run for the C-USA trophy and the NCAA automatic bid, presumably, remains as the long-term goal for the Roadrunners.

All the more reason for UTSA to summon some urgency, to play well for the home fans, to rediscover that winning feeling.

A pivotal game in January?

In this case, I’d say, yes.

UTSA freshman guard Jhivvan Jackson hits from long distance against FAU. Jackson scored 28 on the Owls, boosting his scoring average to 18.9.

Interim coach Phil Johnson sparks UTEP basketball program

A few weeks ago, the UTEP basketball program was reeling with the news that Tim Floyd had retired from coaching. Today, it’s a different story, with interim coach Phil Johnson leading the Miners to back-to-back victories over New Mexico and Washington State. Read the story by Bill Knight of the El Paso Times.

Resurgence at Stephen F. Austin

Last season, the fortunes of the Stephen F. Austin basketball program declined in coach Kyle Keller’s first year on the job. The Lumberjacks finished 18-15 with a first-round loss in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. It was a shock to fans who had experienced three straight trips to the NCAA tournament under the previous coach, Brad Underwood. Keller seems to have SFA moving in the right direction again, with the Lumberjacks (9-1) knocking off two Conference USA programs last week.

Freshman star on the rise

After a close loss at Arizona last weekend, Coach Avery Johnson’s Alabama Crimson Tide returns home next week to open a three-game stand. The Tide will play Mercer on Dec. 19 in Huntsville. Alabama meets Texas on Dec. 22 in Birmingham. Finally, the Tide hosts Texas A&M on Dec. 30 at Tuscaloosa in an SEC opener. With dynamic freshman Collin Sexton, Alabama has a chance for a run to the NCAA tournament this season. Sexton dumped 30 on Arizona in an 88-82 setback Saturday night.