UTSA ‘fired up’ to meet top-seeded Western Kentucky

The UTSA Roadrunners have learned gradually over the past several weeks that they can play winning basketball.

They’ll soon find out if they’re good enough to win against an NCAA tournament-quality opponent.

UTSA will take on the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers at 5:30 p.m. in Frisco. It’s one of four quarterfinal-round matchups in the Conference USA championships scheduled to unfold Thursday at The Star.

The C-USA continues its postseason event into the weekend with semifinals set for Friday and the finals on Saturday. The winner of the tournament earns an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

Coming into Frisco, most people figured that the road to the title for any team would intersect with the path of the Hilltoppers at some point.

After all, Western Kentucky has the C-USA’s Player of the Year in former San Antonio schoolboy Charles Bassey, a 6-foot-11 center.

Bassey and guard Taveion Hollingsworth lead a team that has won non-conference games against Memphis, Rhode Island and Alabama. Overall, the Hilltoppers have posted an 18-6 record, including 11-3 to top the C-USA East regular-season standings.

Thus, they are the No. 1 seed in the C-USA East coming into the tournament.

“They had a terrific year,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said. “We didn’t get to play all the teams in the East this year. But we’re excited. We’ve got great respect for them. They’re clearly one of the best teams in the East and the No. 1 seed. We know what Bassey will do, and it’s not a one-man show. You know, and they’ve got some other really, really good players.

“It’ll take a great effort. But, shoot our guys are fired up. They’re excited.”

By virtue of its conference regular-season record, Western Kentucky earned a bye into the quarterfinals. So, this will be their first game in the tournament. UTSA, meanwhile, came into Frisco as the No. 4 seed in the C-USA West. The Roadrunners were placed into a first-round matchup with the Charlotte 49ers.

On Wednesday night, they beat the 49ers 72-62.

UTSA center Jacob Germany said Wednesday night that the Roadrunners will be ready.

“I think everyone’s excited, honestly,” Germany said. “We didn’t get to play them in the regular season. But Jhivvan (Jackson) and Keaton (Wallace) love playing them. Me personally, I’ve ben looking forward to it since I signed at UTSA. We’re locked in. We’re really locked in.”

Coming up

Thursday’s quarterfinals
At The Star, in Frisco

UTSA (15-10) vs. Western Kentucky (18-6), 5:30 p.m.
Rice (15-12) vs. UAB (21-6), 6 p.m.
Florida Atlantic (13-6) vs. Louisiana Tech (20-6), 8:30 p.m.
North Texas (14-9) vs. Old Dominion (15-7), 9 p.m.

Seeds remaining

East Division — No. 1 Western Kentucky, No. 2 Old Dominion, No. 4 Florida Atlantic
West Division — No. 1 Louisiana Tech, No. 2 UAB, No. 3 North Texas, No. 4 UTSA, No. 6 Rice
Note — The Nos. 1 and 2 seeds in each division earned byes into the quarterfinals

Wednesday’s results

UTSA 72, Charlotte 62
Rice 72, Marshall 68
Florida Atlantic 76, UTEP 70
North Texas 76, Middle Tennessee 56

Notable

Jhivvan Jackson, Keaton Wallace. UTSA beat Southwestern Adventist from Keene, Texas, 123-43 in a non-conference game on Thursday, March 4, 2021, at the UTSA Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

The season is on the line tonight for Jhivvan Jackson (left) and Keaton Wallace. – Photo by Joe Alexander

The Roadrunners will try to reach a milestone tonight. They have never made it past the tournament quarterfinals in eight seasons of affiliation with Conference USA. They have also never won two games in the same C-USA tournament.

UTSA senior guard Jhivvan Jackson scored 18 points Wednesday, all in the first half, in boosting his career total to 2,546. With the performance, he surged to No. 54 on the Division I all-time list, according to sports-reference.com. He needs 10 points against Western Kentucky to move into the Top 50.

Such a move would allow Jackson to pass former University of Arizona and Spurs great Sean Elliott on the all-time list. Elliott scored 2,555 points at Arizona through 1989, when the Spurs selected him with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft. Born in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, Jackson is the No. 1 all-time scorer in Division I among players born in Latin America. The former standout at Euless Trinity became UTSA’s all-time scoring leader late last season.

Worth watching against Western Kentucky is how well Jackson is moving. He took a hit to his left shoulder Wednesday night and had to come out of the game briefly at the end of the first half. He re-entered to play the last 3:49 before intermission, and then played the entire second half. But he did not score after taking a hit on the shoulder. The issue has bothered him periodically during his career, UTSA coach Steve Henson said.

UTSA senior Keaton Wallace scored 20 points against Charlotte for his fourth-straight 20-point game. Wallace, from Richardson High School, has scored 2,050 points in his career.

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