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Travel-weary Gonzaga back home to face UT Arlington

UPDATED: Tue., Dec. 18, 2018, 3:22 p.m.

UT Arlington first-year head coach Chris Ogden watches his team against Missouri on Dec. 4. (L.G. PATTERSON / AP)
UT Arlington first-year head coach Chris Ogden watches his team against Missouri on Dec. 4. (L.G. PATTERSON / AP)

After a demanding stretch of prime matchups, long road trips and finals week, Gonzaga could probably use a break.

The Zags won’t get one with home games Tuesday and Friday, but the opponents won’t be confused with the just-concluded nine-game span that included Texas A&M, Illinois, Arizona, Duke, Creighton, Washington, Tennessee and North Carolina.

Next up is the University of Texas at Arlington, which made offseason headlines when it fired head coach Scott Cross, who led the Mavericks to five of their seven 20-win seasons and is the only coach in the program’s 59-year history with a career winning percentage above 48.7. Cross had a 58.4 winning percentage from 2006-18.

According to the Dallas Morning News, voices were raised in a meeting after a school-record 27-win 2017 season when athletic director Jim Baker informed Scott he wanted UT Arlington to be “the next Gonzaga.”

Scott was fired following last season’s 21-win campaign and Baker hired former Texas Tech assistant Chris Ogden.

The Mavericks (3-7) have dropped six straight after winning three of their first four. The Sun Belt Conference members are 0-5 on the road with losing margins of 14 at Indiana, 18 at Arkansas, 14 at Tulsa and 20 at Missouri.

UTA trailed Indiana by one with 6 minutes left, Arkansas by seven with 7 minutes remaining and Tulsa was a four-point difference midway through the second half.

The Mavericks lost 97 percent of their scoring from last season, including their top nine individuals (eight seniors and a junior that opted to transfer). They’re one of five teams with zero seniors on scholarship.

UTA hit the junior college ranks hard while rebuilding with 12 newcomers, including leading scorers Brian Warren (Tyler Junior College) and Edric Dennis, who played at Hill College as a freshman and Jackson State as a sophomore.

Warren, a 5-foot-9 guard, averages 14.9 points and 3.3 assists. Dennis, a 6-2 guard, averages 14 points and five rebounds, but he missed the last three games with a foot injury. Dennis had 19-point efforts against Indiana and Missouri.

Gonzaga, which dropped from fourth to eighth in Monday’s AP Top 25, wants to tighten up its defense and rebounding, two key factors in losses to North Carolina and Tennessee.

UTA might offer some relief with its 65.2-point average (326th nationally out of 351 programs) and 25.2-percent 3-point accuracy (347th). The Mavericks’ only player listed taller than 6-6 is Jabari Narcis, a 6-9, 230-pound forward who averages 12 minutes per game, but the team is plus-2.4 in rebounding.

The Zags basically have a seven-man rotation without Geno Crandall (hand) and Killian Tillie (ankle), but they declined to use fatigue or the rugged schedule as excuses after Saturday’s loss to North Carolina.

“We’re young, competitors,” sophomore wing Zach Norvell Jr. said. “Not going to blame it on energy or being tired from the schedule. Give credit to them, they had a good game plan and they played harder than us.”

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