North Texas guard Ja’Michael Brown drives to the basket as Texas College guard Nathaniel Francis defends. UNT beat Texas College to run its winning streak to three games heading into Saturday’s game against UTA at the Super Pit. (Denton Record-Chronicle/Tomas Gonzalez)
UTA at North Texas
When: 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: Super Pit, Denton
Radio: KHYI-FM 95.3, KNTU-FM 88.1
Records: UNT 4-3, UTA 5-3
Last game: UNT 73, Texas College 45; UTA 72, Texas 61
Projected UNT starting lineup:
PG: J-Mychal Reese, 6-2, Sr. — Reese missed the first half of UNT’s win over Texas College so that he could take a final. He hit the floor in the second half, when he handed out three assists. Reese didn’t score, dropping his scoring average to 8.2 points per game.
SG: A.J. Lawson, 6-5, Fr. — Lawson endured a tough shooting night in UNT’s win over Texas College. The freshman hit just one of his five shots and finished with two points. He handed out three assists and grabbed five rebounds. Lawson is averaging 9.4 points per game.
SF: Deckie Johnson, 6-4, Sr. — Johnson scored 19 points and hit three of his six shots from 3-point range against Texas College. The senior is averaging a team-high 14.9 points per game and also ranks second on the team with 17 assists.
F: Jeremy Combs, 6-7, Jr. — Combs could return to UNT’s lineup for its game against UTA after sitting out four games to recover from offseason ankle surgery. Combs is averaging 11.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, despite playing at less than 100 percent.
C: Rickey Brice 7-1, So. — Brice posted a double-double that included 15 points and 10 rebounds in UNT’s win over Texas College. The sophomore is averaging 7.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per game.
Scouting UTA: UTA is on a roll. The Mavericks have won four straight and knocked off Texas 72-61 in their last outing. UTA is led by the inside-outside duo of Jalen Jones and Kevin Hervey. Jones, a 6-2 guard, is averaging 13.8 points per game. Hervey, a 6-9 forward, is one of the better front court players the Mean Green will face this season. He is averaging 12.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per game.
What you need to know: UNT has fattened up on a host of cupcakes around the holidays to get to 4-3, beating Division III Sul Ross State and NAIA Texas College in addition to Niagara (1-5) and Hartford (1-7).
The level of competition will rise substantially on Saturday, when the Mean Green host UTA. The Mavericks finished with a 24-11 record last season and appear to be on their way to another successful year.
UTA has won three straight against UNT in the series and cruised by the Mean Green in both meetings in Tony Benford’s tenure. The Mavericks dropped UNT 72-59 at the Super Pit in the 2012-13 season and rolled to a 90-67 win in the 2014-15 campaign.
The Mean Green’s hopes to break through could rest with the health of Combs.
UNT shelved its top player for its last four games in the hope that he would be at full strength for the key games later in the year. UNT hasn’t said for sure if Combs will be back tomorrow, but it’s a possibility.
It makes sense with games against UTA and Sam Houston State coming up and Conference USA play right around the corner. Putting Combs back in the lineup will help UNT substantially, especially if he is anywhere close to full strength.