EDINBURG — The UTRGV men’s basketball squad is set to make its return to the court this weekend for a two-game series against Grand Canyon on Friday and Saturday.
The Vaqueros were sidelined from practices and games for a two-week period due to a positive COVID-19 test within the program’s Tier 1 personnel, which includes athletic trainers, coaches and student-athletes.
The team, however, missed only one nonconference game during its stoppage of basketball activities, its second COVID-related pause of the school year and first since the preseason.
“You never want to stop anything that’s going good,” UTRGV head coach Lew Hill said. “We were feeling good, playing good and getting healthy. Then the stoppage came, but that’s out of our control. It’s been happening all across the world and we’re not exempt from that.”
UTRGV was scheduled to travel to Phoenix, Arizona, to face New Mexico State in a two-game WAC series Jan. 22-23 before the Aggies had to cancel those games after the program announced at least one positive COVID-19 test within its Tier 1 personnel early that week.
According to UTRGV officials, the Vaqueros and Aggies are currently in discussions to potentially reschedule their two-game conference series at some point in February or early March, which would be played mid-week due to existing schedules for both teams.
Those games would take place at Eastwood High School in El Paso, where New Mexico State is scheduled to play the remainder of its home games this season according to a post on social media by the program Monday.
UTRGV picked up a nonconference game against conference foe Tarleton State in Stephenville to replace the New Mexico State series Jan. 23 before the Vaqueros had to cancel that game and enter a program-wide quarantine. The team had a bye week in place this past weekend before that quarantine began.
Friday will mark the Vaqueros’ first competitive game action since a Jan. 16 victory over Dixie State at UTRGV Fieldhouse. Seven of the Vaqueros’ last 11 games dating back to mid-December have been either canceled or postponed due to COVID-related concerns.
“It’s going to be good just get back on the court and do what we do. That’s play basketball,” Hill said. “We can’t control who our opponent is (this season). We’ll play whoever is next.”
LOPES, VAQUEROS TO BATTLE FOR FIRST PLACE IN WAC
UTRGV’s return to the hardwood will take centerstage this weekend as the team battles Grand Canyon for the top spot in the conference standings.
The Vaqueros (8-3, 2-0) and Lopes (12-3, 6-0) enter this weekend’s two-game set in Edinburg as the only two remaining unbeaten teams in WAC play this season.
“Grand Canyon is playing at a really high level and they haven’t had a stoppage. They’re in a nice groove,” Hill said. “We’ve just got to come out and play the way we play within our style.
“They’re a very physical team and they’re very well-coached. They have two physical bigs that play a lot of high-low. They can really bang on you and play inside-out. They’ve got a really good point guard too and overall, they’re just a really good team. We’ve got out work cut out for us.”
The Lopes enter on an eight-game winning streak that includes WAC series sweeps against Tarleton State, Dixie State and most recently New Mexico State.
Grand Canyon is led by sophomore guard Javon Blackshear, who is averaging 11.7 points per game on 44.9% shooting this season, and Asbbjorn Midtgaard, a 7-foot center from Denmark who averages a team-high 14.8 points and 9.7 rebounds per game.
Blackshear and Midtgaard should represent the biggest challenges for UTRGV defensively since nonconference road games against the Texas Longhorns and Texas A&M Aggies in late November and early December, respectively.
This weekend’s series, however, should be just the second time this season that forward Sean Rhea, point guard Javon Levi and center Jeff Otchere — the team’s three top defenders — are all available to play at the same time.
“(Midtgaard) is a very good player. We’ve got to go down there, fight and use our quickness against that group, but Jeff (Otchere) is bigger than he is,” Hill said. “I think it’s all about style. Style makes fights and style makes games. If we can play our style, get up and down and scramble it up, I think we’ll be good.”
UTRGV RETURNS TO BERT OGDEN ARENA FOR FIRST TIME IN 2021
The Vaqueros will also be making a return trip to Bert Ogden Arena for their two-game set against Grand Canyon on Friday and Saturday, with both games set for 7 p.m. tip-offs.
It will mark the second and third games for the Vaqueros at the home of the NBA G League’s RGV Vipers this season, after the men’s and women’s teams both topped the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders in a doubleheader there Dec. 2 as part of the South Texas Showdown.
“We’re excited about the opportunity to play there,” Hill said. “I think it’s great for the university, the community and for Bert Ogden (Arena) that we’re playing there.”
The Vaqueros are 1-1 all-time in games at Bert Ogden Arena after beating the Islanders in 2020 and losing to the Oklahoma Sooners there in 2018.
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