The Super Bowl is coming to Phoenix in one week. However, the Battle of the Purple and White takes center stage on Saturday night on Camelback Road.
Along with the Battle of the Purple and White, in-state games also highlight a busy Saturday slate around the Western Athletic Conference.
Each of the six games on the slate are must-win situations. However, the reasons for that situation vary for each team.
For Sam Houston, Seattle U, SFA and Southern Utah, it is about keeping pace in the regular season title hunt.
On the flip side, for UT Arlington, UTRGV, Utah Tech, and New Mexico State, it is about keeping pace for the final spot at WAC Vegas.
For California Baptist and Abilene Christian, Saturday is simply a must-win for confidence and swag purposes.
Sam Houston at UT Arlington – 4 p.m. CT ESPN+
According to reports, it seems like UT Arlington head coach Greg Young is on the hot seat. So, Saturday’s home game against the red hot Bearkats isn’t a welcome site.
The Mavericks have won just one home game against a Division I opponent this season. At 2-7 in WAC play, and sitting 2.01 points behind New Mexico State in the WAC seeding system, the Mavericks need a win as bad as anyone in the league.
How will Greg Young’s young guys handle the pressure Sam Houston brings on Saturday? Can Kyron Gibson step up and be the guy for the Mavericks? The Mavs can defend but the offensive struggles have dominated the narrative in Arlington all season.
How does Sam Houston respond after an emotional, buzzer-beating win over UTRGV on Wednesday? Cam Huefner had another good game offensively, and hit the game-winner. Qua Grant continues to play well for Jason Hooten’s squad. As of Friday morning, the Bearkats were ranked as one of the best defensive teams in the country in multiple categories.
One week ago, Sam Houston held Seattle U to 40 points. With the way UT Arlington struggles offensively, fans could be in for another barn burner on Saturday afternoon.
UTRGV at Tarleton – 4 p.m. CT ESPN+
UTRGV has been close.
So close. The Vaqueros are currently 1-9 in WAC play. However, the Vaqueros are about 3-4 minutes away from being 4-5 in WAC play. UTRGV should have beat Southern Utah and Sam Houston and Seattle U. But, late game situations weren’t friendly to the Vaqueros.
UTRGV is led by arguably the best player in the WAC in Justin Johnson. The senior guard is averaging a league-best 21.12 points per game. Teammate Will Johnston is also in the top-10 in scoring at 15.27 points per game.
How will Johnson and Johnston handle Tarleton’s pressure? The Texans are a perfect 10-0 at home, had a week off, and are at full strength coming into Saturday. Billy Gillispie has offensive weapons and a deep bench.
UTRGV has size with 6-10 GCU transfer Dima Zdor. But, Tarleton counters with its quickness and athleticism.
This should be an entertaining ball game at Wisdom Gym.
Stephen F. Austin at Grand Canyon – 6 p.m. MT ESPN+
The Battle of Purple and White takes place on Saturday night in Phoenix. SFA comes into GCU Arena fresh off a loss at New Mexico State on Wednesday night. GCU has had a week off to get ready for Saturday night’s battle of purple and white teams.
How will the Jacks respond?
SFA won the first meeting between the two teams on Jan. 7. The Jacks escaped with a 73-68 win over the Lopes, who were playing their first game after losing Jovan Blacksher Jr. for the season.
Keep an eye on the rebounding numbers on Saturday night in the battle of purple and white. In the loss to New Mexico State, the Jacks were out-rebounded 35-28 and gave up 44 points in the paint. This stat should cause some concern as Gabe McGlothan, Aidan Igiehon and Yvan Ouedraogo are better and stronger than the Aggie bigs.
This should be the game of the night. SFA is trying to keep pace with Utah Valley and SUU for the regular season title. And GCU is trying to earn a top-4 seed at WAC Vegas.
The Battle of Purple and White will be entertaining on ESPN+.
Seattle U at New Mexico State – 7 p.m. MT ESPN+
It has not been a good week and a half for the Seattle U Redhawks. After starting WAC play with seven straight wins, the Redhawks have now lost three straight. In fact, those three losses have all been by double figures. The Redhawks lost at Sam Houston and at SFA last week. That happens as that is a difficult road trip. But, on Wednesday night, the Redhawks lost at Climate Pledge Arena by 15 to Abilene Christian.
Their reward? A weekend trip to the Land of Enchantment to take on a New Mexico State squad who is playing better as of late. The Aggies finally got in the win column in WAC play on Wednesday night. DaJuan Gordon had 15 points as the Aggies dominated the glass and the paint in the 73-67 win over SFA.
Playing at home, and playing better basketball, it is a big game for the Aggies. For Seattle U, it is a must-win if the Redhawks hope to stay in contention for the regular season crown.
Southern Utah at Utah Tech – 7 p.m. MT ESPN+
Another night at the Burns Arena and another in-state rivalry game. For the second straight game, Utah Tech hosts an in-state school. Once again, the Trailblazers beat their incoming opponent at Burns Arena last season. So, will the Trailblazers fare better on Saturday than they did on Thursday night? Despite leading 33-29 at halftime against Utah Valley, the Trailblazers couldn’t keep up in the second half.
That should cause some concern for Jon Judkins. Especially because Southern Utah can score in a hurry. Tevian Jones is a Player of the Year candidate. Drake Allen is playing like a seasoned vet. And Todd Simon knows how to win. Add in that SUU may have a bit of a chip on its shoulder after what happened last season at Burns Arena, and Utah Tech may be in for some trouble Saturday night.
Keep an eye on Tanner Christensen. The Idaho transfer seems to get lost on the offensive end at times. But, the Trailblazers have to get Christensen touches on nearly every possession. He can be a force in the paint. When Christensen plays well, it usually means Utah Tech plays well.
Abilene Christian at California Baptist – 7 p.m. PT ESPN+
In the final game of the night, you have an ACU squad that has found its swag. The Wildcats are coming off an impressive road win over Seattle U on Saturday. Joe Pleasant had arguably his best game of the season and the Wildcats held Seattle U to just 19 points after halftime. Two weeks ago, head coach Brette Tanner talked about finding that swag and it appears ACU has done that. The Wildcats have won three of their last four games.
For CBU, figuring out how to close out ball games had to be the emphasis in practice leading up to Saturday. The Lancers are 1-5 in games decided by four points or less. That’s how close CBU is to having 17 wins on the season. Instead, the Lancers have lost two straight and off an emotional loss on Wednesday, how will the Lancers handle the ACU chaos?
Saturday night at the CBU Events Center, fans will see two very different playing styles. CBU likes to run half court offense and use the pick and roll and great deal. ACU just likes to get after it defensively, which allows the Wildcats to get out in transition.
It should be an entertaining way to cap off another entertaining week in the Western Athletic Conference.