For as long as it seemed to take for college basketball to start, the season has flown by as the men’s and women’s Conference USA Tournament in Frisco, Texas is only a month away.
The Bulldogs and Lady Techsters are both coming off splits against North Texas and have six league games remaining on the docket. Head coaches Eric Konkol and Brooke Stoehr addressed their team’s physical and mental state at this point in the season at Tuesday’s press conference.
“Physically, I think we are okay,” said Konkol who has his team in third in West Division with an 8-4 mark. “Any time in February, you are not really 100 percent. We have tried all along to keep every day fresh, not go terribly long but have good intensity. Our main concern though has been our team’s mental health. We have to make sure every day has a level of great fun. It seems so simple, but we want to make sure it is not just a miserable grind.”
“This has been a long year on all of us,” said Stoehr whose team is 6-6 in league action. “February is a tough month regardless of the situation. I think the current circumstances elevate that amount of stress. I think the team is all in. They are excited to play. I like their mindset and the way they are fighting for each other.”
It will be another physical and mental challenge for both squads this week as they take on UAB. The Bulldogs will host the West Division leader Blazers on Friday at 6:30 p.m. and again on Saturday at 3 p.m. inside the Thomas Assembly Center on Karl Malone Court.
For the ‘Dogs to be successful, Konkol said they have to take care of the basketball, first and foremost.
“UAB is a team that forces teams into turnovers quite a bit with their zone,” said Konkol. “We have to take care of the basketball. We cannot get any shots if we do not take care of it. That is going to be a responsibility for a number of guys, not just the point guard. We are going to have to break pressure and make good decisions. Then, we have to have hands and feed ready to knock down some shots.”
The Blazers come into the TAC riding a six-game winning streak, and an overall record of 16-2. The lone loss in C-USA play came at Charlotte back on Jan. 16. They have won the nine other league matchups, making this weekend’s series very important for LA Tech’s hopes of contending for a division title and a first-round bye in the tournament.
On the other hand, Stoehr is telling the Lady Techsters to not be fooled by UAB’s record (7-9, 2-8).
“If you look at their schedule, I think they have played the toughest schedule in C-USA play,” said Stoehr. “You can look at their record and see they have only won two conference games, but they are extremely well coached and have been in every game. They have two really good scorers, led by [Margaret] Whitley who is averaging 22 points a game. They have a lot of new players that are figuring out their roles. We are going to have a tough test ahead of us.”
Since sweeping Southern Miss in early January, UAB has lost six straight (three of those by four points or less). This will be a rematch of the first-round battle in the 2020 C-USA Tournament, the last game played before the season was shut down due to the public health threat of COVID-19.
LA Tech upset 5th-seeded UAB in that game, 66-63.
Photo: by Darrell James