I've lived in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area for about 12 years now, around half my life, and I'd never really given Arlington a whole lot of real thought. To me, for many years, Arlington was just the place that had Six Flags Over Texas and Rangers Ballpark in Arlington (and now, Cowboys Stadium). To this day, I can count on one half of one hand the times I've been to Arlington that weren't for a sporting event or amusement park trip.
I can't remember exactly when I heard about the construction of UTA's College Park Center, but I think it was sometime in the summer. The article talked about its location near downtown Arlington, to which a question mark bubble immediately formed over my head. I had no idea there was such a thing. Today, the immediate downtown area adjacent to Arlington Music Hall and City Hall seems like a bit of a work in progress, with some construction and room for more business. Last Saturday, when I had some time to kill before the Mavericks' game against Northwestern State, I decided to grab a couple of beers before heading to College Park Center. I was forced to park on a dirt lot and ride up over some questionably uneven pavement in order to do so.
This is all part of the process when areas such as downtown Arlington and the College Park District are growing and becoming more desirable. While College Park Center sits in its all of its recently completed glory, the area immediately to the north is still a few months away from its completion.
When finished, the rest of the College Park District will feature restaurants, a residence hall for the university and apartments.
Just to the south of College Park Center is The Green at College Park. I tend to think of this as a sort of quad for all ages at a university whose urban campus never really permitted one until now. At night, The Green rotates through lighting of orange, blue and white -- UTA's school colors.
Upon arriving at the UT-Arlington campus Wednesday evening after a longer-than-expected drive (if you're ever in the DFW area, know that State Highway 360 is where making good time goes to die), I went to buy a shirt at the school bookstore. After acquiring tickets for three UTA games for free on the College Park Center website about six weeks ago, I felt I should probably repay the university in some way for the great basketball I've been able to see.
I don't know how long the process has been going on, but you can see that the University of Texas at Arlington is trying to become known better as UT-Arlington rather than simply UTA. Where the center court logo at Texas Hall read, "UTA", the typeface below the Denver Broncos-esque logo in the middle of College Park Center reads, "UT Arlington." The member of the University of Texas system is trying to make a name for itself in the DFW area and in the rest of Texas, outside of the shadow of the giant flagship institution in Austin with the ESPN-run cable network. That day's issue of the school newspaper, The Shorthorn, was draped across the back of every lower level seat at CPC on Wednesday. The very back page featured a full-page poster devoted to the Mavericks' 2012 Southland regular season title and listed game results on the left side. UTA's December 6 loss in Austin was listed against "UT-Austin", the first time I have ever seen Texas' largest university not referred to as "Texas" or "UT" in an athletic context.
The contest against the Islanders was Senior Night for three Mavericks: Bradley Gay, Bo Ingram and LaMarcus Reed. Gay and sharpshooter Ingram have been integral parts of the Mavericks' dream season, but as juco transfers, neither has been with the team as long as Reed. After graduating from Dallas' Skyline High School in 2007, Reed redshirted during the Mavs' run to the NCAA Tournament in 2007-08. Reed has led the team in scoring each of the last two years, and his scoring and minutes have increased in each of his four seasons. In UTA's undefeated Southland run, Reed leads the conference in scoring during league play. But his stats fail to tell how much of a leader and role model he is. Reed has already graduated with one degree, and will soon earn another. On the court, he gets the ball when the game is on the line and never seems to fail. After nearly every game I've been to at UTA this season, he's come on the microphone and thanked everyone for coming out to watch the team. A season ago, he was even the recipient of some SportsCenter glory for posterizing a certain current National Player of the Year candidate from the Big 12. During Wednesday's game, after Reed made a couple of shots, I saw a member of Reed's family raising the senior's framed No. 31 jersey over his head in the crowd, beaming with pride.
The Islanders of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi are now five years removed from their first and only Southland championship team, when six seniors and program founding father Ronnie Arrow led No. 2 seed Wisconsin by 18 in the NCAA Tournament before falling to a late run. A&M-Corpus Christi came into the game at 5-23, and had only won once in the last month, in a BracketBuster BudgetBuster at Central Michigan. The Islanders were already eliminated from playing next week's Southland tournament.
The first half was fairly disjointed with a lot of stoppages, and a somewhat late-arriving crowd provided less energy at the start than previous games at CPC. Neither team was able to get a sizeable run going, with the largest spurt only of the 5-0 variety for UTA after the score was tied at 22-22 with 6:20 left. The Mavericks led by six at the half, 38-32. There were two lengthy official reviews in the opening 20 minutes, the first of which allowed the pep band to play Chicago's "25 or 6 to 4".
With only two schools below the Red Line in the DFW area and four Division I schools overall, I'm not able to get as wide an array of pep band selections as some other 800GPers. However, "25 or 6 to 4" is the best song I've heard from a pep band in 2011-12. When I hear the kick of the first couple notes now, I instinctively start tapping my feet. And I don't think I'm the only one who loves it. During the playing of the song, I saw the young girl who mops up the floor mouthing the words to a tune about three decades older than she is.
At halftime, the members of UTA's seven-time national champion wheelchair basketball team, the Movin' Mavs, were honored. The Movin Mavs' are the No. 1 seed at the national championship tournament to be played in Illinois from March 8-13, and are just two wins from their eighth title.
Where the first half saw a dearth of runs, the second half had a litany of them. The Mavericks scored the first five points of the second half, and a jumper by Ingram brought up the first double-digit margin of the game at 43-32. During that run, the first free throw of the half was made by Jordan Reves. This isn't usually a notable event in any game, but when the Mavericks are shooting at the end of College Park Center opposite the student section in the second half, the cheerleaders line up on the other baseline and do a flip for every successful shot from the charity stripe.
The Islanders shot well from #superhoop land all night, and their two most prolific gunners on the night were Chris Hawkins-Mast and Jake Kocher. The pair of guards scored every point in an 11-0 run to tie the game at 43. The Mavericks responded with a 9-0 spurt helped by the strong post play of Brandon Edwards and led 52-43 with less than 13 minutes left. By this point, the crowd had really come alive. However, the loudest CPC got all night came courtesy of a Kevin Butler #OMGDUNX. With about eight minutes left, Ingram put up a lob, one that had me thinking, "there's no way anyone gets on the end of this". Butler, a projectile on a perfect trajectory to meet the ball, was able to achieve what I thought was impossible, and gave the Mavericks a 10-point lead at 62-52.
Hawkins-Mast and Kocher again helped the Islanders claw back, making the margin four with 4:30 to go at 65-61. From there, UTA's attacking, up-tempo style paid dividends and the Mavs closed on a 13-3 run with the senior Reed and Butler making some big plays to ice the game.
Immediately after the game, Reed was again gracious in thanking everyone for being there and coach Scott Cross encouraged fans to make the trip to Katy and watch UTA go for its second-ever NCAA Tournament bid.
I think I've said it before, but I'll say it again: it's tough to understate how good this season has been for UT-Arlington in a historical context. With every subsequent victory, the Mavericks set a school record for wins in a single season. Their 15 wins in a conference season eclipse the previous school record of 13, set in a 20-game league schedule. UTA will likely finish four or five games ahead of its closest SLC rival. But perhaps as importantly, this team, with help from the vision of the university, is forging a legacy that could help make Arlington home to more years of great college basketball in the future.
at TEXAS-ARLINGTON 78, TEXAS A&M-CORPUS CHRISTI 64 02/29/2012
TEXAS A&M-CORPUS CHRISTI 5-24 (3-12) -- C. Hawkins-Mast 7-13 2-3 18; T. Jones 3-9 0-0 9; J. Jordan 3-4 0-3 6; N. Maxey 0-2 0-1 0; J. Kocher 5-8 2-2 15; J. Smith 3-10 0-0 7; H. Ali 2-4 2-2 7; J. Pope-Didier 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 24-51 6-11 64. TEXAS-ARLINGTON 23-6 (15-0) -- L. Reed III 7-16 2-4 18; B. Ingram 6-11 1-2 14; J. Reves 4-4 1-3 9; K. Butler 5-9 6-10 16; S. White-Miller 0-4 2-2 2; B. Gay 3-6 0-0 7; C. Catlett 1-4 3-4 5; B. Edwards 3-5 1-1 7; K. Gruszecki 0-0 0-0 0; S. Lagerson 0-1 0-0 0; N. Osbourne 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 29-60 16-26 78.
Three-point goals: TAMC 10-19 (T. Jones 3-6; C. Mast 2-4; H. Ali 1-1; J. Kocher 3-5; J. Smith 1-3), UTA 4-18 (L. Reed 2-6; K. Butler 0-2; C. Catlett 0-1; B. Edwards 0-1; B. Gay 1-2; B. Ingram 1-5; S. White-Miller 0-1); Rebounds: TAMC 26 (T. Jones 5), UTA 37 (J. Reves 13); Assists: TAMC 16 (J. Jordan 5), UTA 15 (C. Catlett 4); Total Fouls -- TAMC 18, UTA 13; Fouled Out: TAMC-T. Jones; UTA-None.