For both UTSA basketball programs, making a March trip to Katy for the conference tournament is becoming an annual occurrence.
For the women of the hardwood, it is an 11th straight trip to the conference tournament. In the time that the UTSA women have made the tournament, it has gone from the days of each game being held at the home gym of the higher seed to a major event held at the Merrell Center in Katy, Texas.
The Roadrunner women had their greatest success in the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons when they won the Southland Conference tournament championship and earned a berth in the NCAA women’s tournament.
A chance at a three-peat was lost when the Roadrunners fell in the first round to the UT-Arlington Mavericks, the very team they had knocked off the year before in the tournament final.
Now the Roadrunner women are three wins away from their third conference title in four years.
The men’s program has a smaller but no less impressive appearance streak. Since Devin Gibson came to campus before the 2007-08 season, the men have made it to the conference tournament every year. This year it came down to a must win game at UT-Arlington, which the Roadrunners won 68-63 Saturday.
In previous years, the Roadrunners have had an up-and-down performance in the tournament. The Roadrunners won the Southland tournament in 1999 and 2004, earning a 16-seed in the NCAA tournament each year. They fell in the first round of the conference tournament in 2005 and 2006 and missed the tournament in 2007.
In the 2007-08 season, the Roadrunners entered the tournament as the eight-seed but fell in the opening round to top seed, Stephen F. Austin, 71-60.
The following season the Roadrunners made a miracle run as the six-seed. In the opening round they knocked off the three-seed, Sam Houston State Bearkats, 83-74, and the two-seed, Nicholls Colonels, 57-55 before falling to top seed Stephen F. Austin, 68-57 in the tournament final.
A year following their miracle run to the final, the Roadrunners found themselves yet again as the six-seed. The miracle run would not be repeated as they fell in the opening round to the three-seed Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders 78-66.
This year the conference tournament yet again finds both UTSA programs in play. For the women, it is the chance at a third title in four years; for the men, the chance to send Devin Gibson out with a ring.
Before either team can cut down the nets, they will have to get through three rounds of tough competition. For the women, the road back to the final begins with a first round game against the five-seed Sam Houston State Lady Bearkats Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. If they get through Sam Houston, the winner of the matchup between number one seed McNeese and eight-seed Southeastern Louisiana awaits. McNeese boasts a 15-1 conference record for their first outright regular season title in school history.
A win in the semi-finals for UTSA would mean their ticket to the conference final friday night would be punched. The four possible opponents in a final would be two-seed Lamar, three-seed Central Arkansas, six-seed Stephen F. Austin or seven-seed Northwestern state.
Should the women win the tournament, they would receive an automatic bid in the NCAA women’s tournament. In their last trip to the big dance, the Roadrunners became the first 15-seed to take a two-seed to overtime and nearly became the first 15 to beat a two in NCAA [women’s] tournament history.
The UTSA men are also three wins away from their first trip to the big dance since 2004.
They enter the tournament as the seven-seed and will open the tournament at noon on Wednesday against the two-seed Northwestern State Demons. If the Roadrunners are able to pull out the victory against Northwestern State, a matchup with the winner of three-seed Sam Houston vs. six-seed Stephen F. Austin would await on Thursday. A win in the semifinals would place the Roadrunners in the final on Saturday afternoon against one of four opponents. Possible opponents in the final would be either one-seed McNeese, eight-seed Nicholls, four-seed Texas State or five-seed Southeastern Louisiana.
Should both teams win the conference tournament, it would be just the second time in Southland history that a school won both men’s and women’s conference tournaments.
UTSA is one of six schools to send both men’s and women’s programs to the Southland tournament, but none of those schools boast consecutive appearance streaks for both teams at the level that UTSA does.
When the dust settles on the Southland conference tournament, it will end the second-to-last season in the Southland for UTSA.
Whether the Roadrunners send both back next year will be decided on the court next season. This week will decide a ticket to the big dance.