The Wildcats (10-10, 2-5) hosted the UT Arlington Mavericks (7-14, 2-6) Saturday night for their first and only matchup of the season, gaining the win, 84-68.
In the previous games for ACU, they have not been able to secure a win in four games, including a close loss against Southern Utah, 72-74, and most recent against Utah Valley, 54-84. It’s been a struggle the past couple of weeks for the Wildcats but head coach Brette Tanner believes gaining back the energy is all they need to be successful again.
“I told them, I said listen,” Tanner said. “Just get your swagger back, like you got to play with some swagger. We have to be smart and we have to be disciplined. When we take chances and we hit our shots, Damien flexes, which drives me insane, but that’s where we get the energy from. I think that’s what we’ve lost. We lost our energy over the course of a couple of weeks and that’s what playing on the road can do for you but I don’t think we’ve been playing terribly.”
Yet despite the streak, the Wildcats have an 8-1 record at home, allowing them to gain the confidence to pull out an important win. With this win, ACU is in eighth place, tied with Utah Tech, in the Western Athletic Conference Standings.
The Mavericks started off the game early by securing a three-pointer, allowing them to have the momentum. After two minutes of back-and-forth misses and rebounds by both teams, the Wildcats were able to make it on the board with a jumper from senior guard Damien Daniels. With 16 minutes left to go, senior forward Airion Simmons made his first three-pointer of the night, starting a 15-0 run for the Wildcats.
UT Arlington was able to stay in the lead until a layup made by sophomore guard Ali Abdou Dibba set the Wildcats over the Mustangs, 7-6, leading ACU to take the lead for the rest of the game. At one point in the first half, ACU was able to pull out the lead by 13, forcing them into the half with a 9-point lead, 36-27.
By gaining this strong lead in the first half, Tanner saw the teams defense click like how it was supposed to and watched it become a strong suit in the game.
“Before we would make three or four trips and then all of a sudden we let our defense break down,” Tanner said. “I don’t think we allowed that to happen tonight. I felt it a little bit for a brief second in the first half, but we had a timeout and I told them that didn’t fly. We were playing defense and I said we’re gonna go turn them over right now and we went and got a turnover.”
Coming into the second half, the Wildcats started clicking and pulled out a performance. Junior guard Hunter Jack Madden and Simmons sinked two three-pointers back to back, pushing ACU to an 18-point lead. Three-pointers were a strong tactic of the Wildcats with Simmons totaling four, Daniels marking two, and junior forward Cameron Steele recording three. The team only missed one three-pointer in the entire second half.
From the first to the second half, ACU pushed like a different team. With only making 52 percent of their field goals in the first, they increased to 80 percent in the second, not only stepping up their own game but beating out the Mavericks’ 55.56 percent shooting.
“We scored 27 points off of turnovers and that’s who we are and that’s what we do,” Tanner said. “I think that brings confidence and when they defend the way we want them to, they can go have some fun. Yet, I’ve had to put the clamps on a little too much the last couple of weeks, but tonight I didn’t have to, which makes my job a lot easier and allowed them to have fun at home.”
The Mavericks’ Kyron Gibson recorded 20 points, with half of those coming from three-pointers, giving him a season-high. Shemar Wilson recorded 12 points, going 4-5 from the field and 4-7 in free throws.
Four Wildcat players gained over 10 points, with Simmons (17) and Daniels (15) both marking season-high records. Graduate guard Tobias Cameron and Daniels secured a total of 13 rebounds, letting the Wildcats stay ahead with the momentum.
The Wildcats stay home for their second game in a three-game home stretch for their first matchup against Grand Canyon University at 7 p.m. Thursday in Moody Coliseum, streaming on ESPN+ and ACU Sports Network.