UTRGV runs away from Seattle, extends winning streak to five

EDINBURG — Seattle had UTRGV’s number at the UTRGV Fieldhouse in the Lew Hill era.

The Redhawks won a nine-point affair in 2017 and then snatched victory from the Vaqueros’ hands in overtime last season in Edinburg.

UTRGV was in control throughout as it downed Seattle 59-44 on Thursday night.

Hill said the last two home meetings with the Redhawks didn’t mean much to him or his team.

“That (the overtime loss) was last year. Last year is last year,” Hill said. “We can’t change last year. We can only control what we can control, and we’ve beaten them two times this year.”

UTRGV junior forward Lesley Varner II is the only current Vaquero on the roster who suited up in both home losses to Seattle in 2017 and 2018.

“We have players who are just buying in to coach (Lew) Hill and the staff,” Varner said. “We want to stay consistent on the court, day in and day out. As far as practice, we come in and work hard.”

University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s Lesley Varner II (11) attempts a basket against Seattle University in a WAC game at UTRGV Fieldhouse on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

One of the biggest challenges presented to the Vaqueros was stopping the Redhawks’ outstanding 3-point shooting. Seattle entered the game shooting 39.5 percent as a team this season, which is tops in the WAC, despite the Redhawks struggling mightily in its first meeting with UTRGV (2 of 10 on 3-pointers) on Jan. 19.

UTRGV was relentless of its pursuit to close out on Seattle’s shooters, who only made 4 of 18 3-pointers on Thursday.

“We’re No. 1 in 3-point field goal percentage (in the WAC) for a reason,” Hill said. “We don’t want to give anybody open looks. We work on that all the time, running people off the 3(-point line). We’ve been doing that to everybody.”

UTRGV (15-12, 7-4) extended its winning streak to five games, which is the program’s longest since UTPA won seven games in a row during the 2007-08 season.

The winning streak has coincided with the blossoming of sophomore reserve guard Greg Bowie II. Bowie is averaging 11.2 points, shooting 58 percent from the floor (18-of-31) and 61.9 percent from the perimeter (13-of-21) over the past five games. Bowie scored 12 points Thursday against the Redhawks (13-11, 1-8).

“Coach (Kenya) Crandell and coach (Luke) Mackay have been on me, telling me to stick to it and keep pushing because they knew that I’ll be back on,” Bowie said. “They make sure that I hold my follow-through. It’s a modern technique that I have to focus on. I’ve been doing that and that’s leading to it working during games.”

“He’s a hard worker, but I thought he lost a little confidence,” Hill said of Bowie. “It takes one or two games to get your confidence back and he’s doing a good job. It’s coming at the right time for us. I’m excited for him because I know how hard he works. He had to free his mind up and not worry about the misses. Now we got him to ease up on himself and just play.”

University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s Jordan Jackson (22) drives to the basket against Seattle University in a WAC game at UTRGV Fieldhouse on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

UTRGV guard Jordan Jackson led the way with 14 points. Point guard Javon Levi flooded the stat sheet again Thursday, scoring 12 points, handing out nine assists, piling on a career-high seven steals and just one turnover. Varner scored seven and grabbed a team-high seven rebounds.

UTRGV’s win over Seattle Thursday, coupled with a Grand Canyon loss and CSU Bakersfield win, created a three-way tie for second place in the WAC.

The Vaqueros will host Utah Valley at 7 p.m. Saturday. The Wolverines are only a half-game behind UTRGV in the standings.

“We won these games but there’s always something we can work on,” Bowie said. “Tomorrow, we’re going to be working on the mistakes we made tonight. It’s about keeping your head straight forward, getting your mind clear and sticking to what coach Hill says.”

“We have to stay hungry,” Hill said. “Our stomachs are half full. We have to know how to handle success and expect to win. When we talk about winning, we don’t say, ‘If we do this or we do this, we’ll win.’ We go out saying that we’re going to win. Our mindset is changing.”