CHICAGO — The UTPA men’s basketball team had the chance to do a lot of things against the Chicago State Cougars on Friday in the semifinals of the Great West tournament.
Not only would a victory have locked up the Broncs’ first winning season since 2007-08, it would have propelled them into a conference title game as the highest-remaining seed. They would have been a win away from a league championship and first postseason tournament berth since reaching the 1981 NIT.
Unfortunately, their offense sputtered badly in a season-ending 63-55 loss to host Chicago State, making all of those goals unreachable until next year.
Broncs coach Ryan Marks said those realities stung, while also looking at the positives of a season that saw UTPA finish .500 overall at 16-16 and included a winning 5-3 record in Great West play.
“Those are some things obviously we wanted to achieve but if we had won one more and lost we would have looked at some other things we didn’t quite get to,” Marks said. “There were some things obviously we had hoped to accomplish, but as time goes on for the guys I don’t think it will diminish the progress that they made this year.”
The progress was halted Friday thanks to a struggling offense. Though the Broncs shot 33 free throws and made 23, the offense struggled most of the night. They shot 36.1 percent from the floor while committing 15 turnovers.
Those issues took away any chance UTPA had of advancing to today’s title game, where they would have faced fourth-seeded Houston Baptist after it upset regular-season champion NJIT 62-61.
“Coach (Marks) talked about poise before the game. I didn’t do a good enough job of handling the ball and being poised with the ball and I have to do that, especially as a senior point guard,” said Aaron Urbanus, who had 12 points. “I can’t turn the ball over as many times (five) as I did. Because of that we never got a great rhythm.”
That lack of rhythm cost the Broncs a loss to a team they had beaten twice in the regular season. It also ended the four-year UTPA careers of Urbanus and Brandon Provost, who led the Broncs with 17 points and seven rebounds.
Provost said he didn’t know if playing Chicago State (10-21) led to any of the Broncs’ issues.
“They had us scouted very well, but I don’t know,” Provost said. “They just played well.”
Friday’s loss also ends UTPA basketball’s time in the Great West. Next season the Broncs will be in the WAC, and they know they’ll need to improve.
“That’s kind of a reshuffling of the deck, and a steep upward trajectory for us to climb again,” Marks said.
At least on Friday, a sputtering offense made the climb too steep for the Broncs. Maybe things will end differently next season, but it will certainly be in a different setting.
“They’ve got a great opportunity going to the WAC and I wish them luck,” Urbanus said.
Torre’s career over after loss to NJIT
CHICAGO — The UTPA Broncs went on one extended run and were helped by one huge break.
Neither were enough to extend their season or Bianca Torre’s college career, both of which ended in a 52-42 loss to NJIT on Friday in the semifinals of the Great West tournament.
“I just wish I had been crying tears of joy instead of sadness,” Torre said.
While Torre said she hadn’t had time to think about what she meant to UTPA, coach Denny Downing was more than able to put it into words. As Downing noted, not only did Torre provide senior leadership for a young team, but she starred at a local high school and went on to do the same at the local college.
That clearly resonated with him.
“There will probably never be another Bianca Torre,” Downing said. “Somebody that’s from the Valley that’s done as well as she has. I can’t tell you what she’s meant to me over these last four years.”
In her last collegiate game, the Broncs’ all-time leader in points (1,437), assists (393), and steals (226) was held to three points on 1-of-6 shooting. Ten minutes after the game it was still obvious how much the former Harlingen South star had been impacted by the end of her run with the Broncs.
“It would have meant the world (to win a conference title), but everything happens for a reason,” Torre said.
For a while, however, it looked like Torre might have a chance to play for that Great West championship today.
The Broncs, whose season ends at 12-16, fell behind by 17 points with seven minutes left in the first half but went into halftime on a 14-2 run, punctuated on a mistake by NJIT’s Sarah Olson. Olson, who ended up leading all scorers with 16 points, shot into her own basket with 0.1 seconds left before the buzzer, thinking the half already ended.
After a review UTPA was given two points, cutting its deficit to just at 28-23. But any hopes of using the momentum were dashed for the Broncs by their poor shooting in the second half, when they shot just 26.7 percent.
That and the slow start doomed the Broncs in their final game before joining the Western Athletic Conference.
“The thing was, we didn’t play well enough to win,” Downing said.
Praise for Torre, though, came freely.
KaeLynn Boyd, who led the Broncs with 14 points, called Torre “simply amazing.”
“Just a great, great person all around,” Boyd said. “From day one, she’s a leader, she’s everything that you want your point guard to be on your team. Bianca is just… she’s amazing. Her records speak for themselves.”
For her part, Torre said she wasn’t concerned with the records she set, just that the Broncs lost and the hopes of a conference title are gone for this year. Records aside, perhaps her biggest impact will be what Downing said, that she was a Valley athlete who flourished at UTPA.
That’s something she did recognize.
“I just hope I opened up the door for kids in the Valley to believe in themselves and know they can do something,” Torre said.
-- Brian Sandalow
Go-ahead hit gives UTPA baseball 5-4 win
EDINBURG — Three weeks ago, Manny Mantrana made a point to reference how quickly freshman catcher Jacob Huckabay had vaunted himself into the starting lineup.
“Huckabay’s gotta play,” he said.
The fifth-year coach wasn’t kidding.
Huckabay, who entered the game in the top of the eighth inning as a defensive replacement, delivered the go-ahead hit in UTPA’s 5-4 victory Friday over Lamar in its home opener.
“We work, day in and day out,” Huckabay said. “We work on staying loose in those situations. I’m glad he (Mantrana) had the confidence in me to do the job.”
Of course, the fact that UTPA was in that spot was partially to due to Huckabay.
His passed ball in the top half of the inning forced Mantrana to intentionally walk designated hitter Seth Dornak (who homered earlier) to load the bases. Aaron Olivas followed and beat out a double play to tie the game at 4-4.
“That was something I felt I owed to them,” Huckabay said.
Shortly after that, Huckabay doubled home Aaron Moore. On a 3-0 pitch, no less.
“We like being aggressive,” Mantrana said. “That was a big, big hit in a great situation.”
Sam Street gave up two earned runs on eight hits and two walks over his eight innings of work to pace the Broncs (4-9). Moore worked the ninth to earn the save.
After Dornak’s homer in the second, Street surrendered two more unearned runs in that frame after leftfielder Alex Howe dropped what should have the third out of the inning. He didn’t use that as an excuse, instead claiming he had the pick up his teammate, but overall liked the way he threw.
“Coach (Norberto Lopez) gave me pointers throughout the game,” Street said. “We just worked on a few things, put me back to normal.”
UTPA battled back from that initial 3-0 hole, getting a run in the second on Riley Goulding’s RBI hit and another in the sixth when Alberto Morales plated Bryan Ramirez with a double.
Ramirez, another freshmen and PSJA High alum, gave the Broncs their first lead of the game with a two-RBI single in the seventh.
That made it 4-3, and the Broncs we’re feeling it.
“They’ve really been pushing to get some playing time,” Mantrana said of his young players.
But Lamar (16-3) answered back. That set up Huckabay’s heroics, which gave UTPA its fourth win of the season.
“It’s always good to win at home,” Mantrana said. “We’re off at home to a good start.”
All four of the Broncs’ wins have come on Friday’s. All in series openers. That trend held true again at Edinburg Baseball Stadium.
Now, with Dylan Badura on the hill for today’s game at 3 p.m., the Broncs hope to change things up.
“This week’s the week,” Street said.
Todd Orodenker covers UTPA Athletics for The Monitor. You can reach him at (956) 683-4431 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vipers melt down in 114-104 loss
HIDALGO — The Rio Grande Valley Vipers were seemingly on their way to their fifth-straight victory against the Santa Cruz Warriors on Friday night at State Farm Arena.
Then, in a flash, they were done.
After scoring 44 points in the third quarter, they managed only eight in the fourth. The Vipers had two ejections and a foul out in the fourth quarter, and that perfectly illustrated this epic meltdown in their 114-104 loss to the Warriors.
The Warriors outscored the Vipers 24-2 in the final 7:03. Glen Rice Jr., the son of the former NBA star who was in attendance, gave the Vipers a 102-90 lead at the 7:03 mark with a 3-pointer. Nearly two minutes later, he was ejected when he was called for this second technical foul. Houston Rocket assignee Royce White fouled out 10 seconds later. The nosedive was capped when Vipers coach Nick Nurse was assessed back-to-back technical fouls at the 1:01 mark.
“Everything just seemed to fall apart,” Nurse said. “Things didn’t go our way very well. Give them some credit. They were playing pretty tough defense, and we didn’t handle it very well. We had a foul out and an ejection and then another ejection, and that didn’t help things either.”
Nurse said he couldn’t comment on his technical fouls.
The Vipers led 102-92 when Rice left the game at the 5:16 mark. Rice, who was named the NBA Development League’s Performer of the Week this week, had 10 points and nine rebounds. White had 13 points and five rebounds.
“(The loss of Rice and White) affected us a little bit, but it was more than unraveling that was going on that affected us more,” Nurse said. “We have guys who can step up for them, but we didn’t make enough shots to answer their offense.”
The Vipers dropped to 25-15 and now lead the Austin Toros and Tulsa 66ers by two games in the Central Division standings. The Vipers played the Los Angeles D-Fenders tonight at State Farm Arena.
The game was tied at 52 at halftime. The Warriors took a 72-70 lead on a 3-pointer by Stefhon Hannah with 7 minutes remaining in the third quarter before the Vipers responded with a 20-3 run that put them in the lead, 90-75, at the 2:22 mark of the third. The Vipers made four of their seven treys in the third quarter during that run. Chris Johnson, who led the Vipers with 23 points, made four of his five 3-pointers in the third quarter.
The Vipers opened the fourth quarter with 3-pointers by Chris Daniels and Rice to push their lead to 102-90.
Then, it came apart.
The Warriors (27-13) quickly cut the Vipers lead to 102-98 with an 8-0 run over a 1:29 span. They tied it at 102 following a dunk from Darington Hobson at the 3:14 mark. And they kept going from there. The Vipers scored just two more points on a pair of free throws by Johnson.
“We let the refs get to us a little bit, getting frustrated, calling technical fouls,” Johnson said. “That kind of threw us out of the loop. The momentum changed to them, and they took advantage of it.”
Hannah led the Warriors with 22 points. Hilton Armstrong had 20 points and 11 rebounds.
Johnson also had 11 rebounds for the Vipers, sharing team-high honors with D.J. Kennedy. Daniels had 19 points off the bench. The 7-0 center made 2 of 6 3-pointers.
“We lost a little focus, and then one thing led to another,” Daniels said. “They got a couple of easy buckets, and that changed the game. ... It was one of those games where it just happens. In a blink of an eye, it just happens. We’ve got to get refocused, come back tomorrow and be ready to play.”
David Hinojosa covers the Rio Grande Valley Vipers for The Monitor. You can reach him at (956) 683-4442 or via email at email@example.com