EDINBURG — A number of things have been a long time coming for the UTPA men’s basketball team.
One big one (getting into a real conference) was knocked out earlier this season. Two more came Saturday at the Field House.
The Broncs survived a back-and-forth grind of a game to pick up a 62-60 victory over Utah Valley — their first over the Wolverines in three years and the first time they’ve been .500 this late in the year since the 2007-08 season.
UTPA (10-10 overall) moved to 2-0 in the Great West Conference and got there after surviving a tense final minute of action. Down by 1 with under a minute left, UVU (9-11, 1-2) wasted nearly all the time off shot clock before Antoine Hosley missed a runner from the foul line with seven seconds to go.
Ruben Cabrera hauled in the rebound and passed it off to Jesus Delgado, who was fouled with 3.4 left. He split a pair from the line, and Jason Johnson’s ensuing halfcourt heave was well off, giving the Broncs the type of win that has eluded them over the past few years.
“More than anything, that was a gut-it-out basketball game,” Broncs coach Ryan Marks said. “Both teams could never get separation from one another.”
The lead changed hand eight times, it was tied twice, UTPA led by as many as seven, UVU by as many as three.
Cabrera, who had 19 points to lead UTPA, had eight straight points early in the second half to keep his team in the game after it looked like UVU might start seizing control.
“My teammates kept feeding me the ball, I was playing whatever the defense was playing,” the senior forward said. “I was always trying to stay aggressive.”
His 3-point play with 2:10 left wound giving UTPA a lead it would never relinquish. From there, the Wolverines were always playing catch up. The final minutes turned into a grind, in more ways than one, but UTPA pulled through.
Pick your cliché to explain that, Aaron Urbanus said. This time, it applies.
“We set a couple of goals for us, to win conference, and to do that we gotta win on the home court,” he said. “This was just a start.”
The Broncs did this without much help from leading scorer Brandon Provost, who was held to seven points on just 2-7 shooting. Without him seeing the ball (mostly due to the offense running through Cabrera), Justin Leathers and Urbanus both added 11.
But for Marks, at least on offense, it all came back to the job Cabrera did.
“He came in and he operated really well with a lot of confidence with his back to the basket,” Marks said.
The Broncs did get some general help from UVU — key player Holton Hunsaker was stuck in foul trouble all game and played just 21 minutes, plus it shot just 28.6 percent from the field during the first half (and 39.6 for the game).
That helped make the game what it was, but it wasn’t gift wrapped for the Broncs. They know they earned this.
“It’s a great win for us,” Cabrera said. “We’re trying to defend our home court.”
UTPA won’t have a chance to do that for more than a week. Next up for the Broncs is a road trip to Newark, N.J. next Saturday to face NJIT, which is also 2-0 in the GWC.
The east coast in the dead of winter will have a far different feel from the Valley, but the Broncs are more than happy to get on a plane and face the Highlanders.
“We have tremendous respect for them,” Marks said. “They’ve too take the next step with their program.”
Todd Orodenker covers UTPA Athletics for The Monitor. You can reach him at (956) 683-4431 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.