EDINBURG — For the second time in three weeks, the UTRGV Vaqueros have had to adjust to scheduling changes prompted by fellow Western Athletic Conference men’s basketball programs.
UTRGV scheduled to play its second series of back-to-back WAC games against New Mexico State on Friday and Saturday at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona, but a positive COVID-19 test result with the Aggies’ program resulted in the fourth and fifth scheduled games for the Vaqueros in the past month that won’t be played due to circumstances beyond the program’s control.
A Jan. 5 nonconference game against Dallas Christian was postponed due to COVID concerns within the DCU program, and UTRGV’s first two games of WAC play against Chicago State, which was previously scheduled for Jan. 8 and 9, were canceled after the Cougars program suspended its season.
“We don’t love it, to be honest, but we’re not the only people around the country that are having to do these kinds of things,” UTRGV head coach Lew Hill said. “We have to adjust and adapt just like everybody else. … Like I tell our guys all the time, ‘Stepping on this floor and playing games is a blessing.’”
UTRGV announced Wednesday that it had scheduled a replacement game against WAC foe Tarleton State after the Texans’ scheduled conference series against Seattle U was also called off due to COVID concerns.
The Vaqueros and Texans will meet for a nonconference matchup at 3 p.m. Saturday in Stephenville in a game that will not impact WAC standings. The two teams are also scheduled to square off against one another in WAC play March 5 and 6 in Edinburg.
“It was the schools’ (decision),” said Hill of Saturday’s designation as a nonconference game. “There was a little bit (of talk about moving the conference games against Tarleton State to this weekend), but not too much, though, because we’d have to do too much juggling. … We didn’t have too much discussion about that.”
Saturday’s matchup will be the second meeting ever between UTRGV and Tarleton State and the first between the two teams since 1963.
The then UT-Pan American Broncs won that contest 70-58 in Edinburg, before going on to win the NAIA National Championship later that season.
LEVI, OTCHERE RETURN TO COURT, BUT VAQUEROS REMAIN SHORTHANDED
The Vaqueros were given a big boost with the return of senior point guard Javon Levi and graduate transfer center Jeff Otchere during the opening weekend of conference play.
Otchere, who missed the first eight games of the season due to a knee injury, has thrived in limited playing time during his first three games in a UTRGV uniform.
The Vaqueros’ big man has seen his minutes increase in each of the team’s last three games and has provided a commanding presence in the interior, averaging 5.3 rebounds and 3.7 blocks in 15 minutes per game in addition to shooting 57% from the floor.
Levi, the two-time defending WAC Defensive Player of the Year, was also sharp in his return to action against Dixie State after reaggravating a foot injury first sustained during the offseason.
The Vaqueros’ point guard averaged 14.0 points, 9.5 assists and 3.0 steals on 11-of-19 shooting in his first two games back against the Trailblazers and tallied his first double-double of the season (16 points, 11 assists) in Game 2 against Dixie State.
UTRGV has yet to play a game at full strength this season, however, and that will continue this weekend as Hill confirmed that sophomore forward Quinton Johnson II will not travel with the team to Tarleton State.
Johnson has missed the Vaqueros’ last three games due to undisclosed personal matters.