UTRGV coach Lew Hill sensed something wasn’t right during a team practice Wednesday.
“We started practice yesterday and we weren’t practicing the way I wanted them to,” Hill said. “We weren’t very sharp at the beginning and I just brought them in and challenged them. ‘Do you want to win this thing or not? If you want to win, then we have to practice harder and prepare better.’ After that, they turned it up. We had a great second half of practice and it carried into the game today.”
UTRGV (19-15) brought the intensity to its quarterfinal matchup of the 2019 WAC Tournament against CSU Bakersfield. The Vaqueros jumped out to a 14-2 lead and continued to outrun the Roadrunners by making 15 of their first 18 field-goal attempts in their 85-70 win Thursday at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
“My expectation was that we were going to come out and play the aggressive style that we’ve been playing,” Hill said. “A hot shooting night isn’t the expectation. If we execute and play hard, everything else will take care of itself.”
Four of UTRGV’s starters scored in double figures on Thursday. Tyson Smith led the way with 19 points. Terry Winn III’s jump shot was pure early on as he ended with 14 while Jordan Jackson and Javon Levi chipped in with 11 points apiece. Greg Bowie II nailed three 3-pointers as a part of his 16-point performance off the bench.
The Vaqueros will square off with New Mexico State at 8 p.m. central time tonight. The Aggies entered this week as the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament.
“We have to contest all of their shots, contain dribble penetration and really, really rebound,” Hill said. “We have to keep them off the boards, out of transition and take good-to-great shots every time.”
Thursday’s win is a giant one in UTRGV history. It was the program’s first-ever victory at the WAC tournament. With 19 wins on the season, the Vaqueros have their winningest season since 2001-02.
“It means everything to the program. It means we’re going in the right direction,” Hill said. “I’ll go back to a statement I made when I first got this job. ‘We’ve got to crawl, we’ve got to walk and then we’ve got to sprint.’ It all goes back to the young men who are working their behinds off. They believe in what we’re teaching them. I’m so proud of them, but we’ve still got work to do. We’re hungry. We want to be greedy. We’re never satisfied.”