Comets streaking northward

More news about: Texas-Dallas
Kyle Schleigh, a 2013 All-America selection, had two big nights for UT-Dallas in the regionals.
UT-Dallas athletics photo by Joe Fusco

By Josh Smith

The UT-Dallas men’s basketball team is coming off its biggest homestand in program history. And the Comets would like nothing better than to make more history this weekend with a pair of wins and earn the team’s first trip to the Final Four.

UT-Dallas set an attendance record when 1,437 fans packed the UTD Activity Center in Richardson, Texas, to watch the Comets top Chapman 85-70 on Friday.

The next night Comets fans were treated to a thrilling 78-77 overtime victory against Whitworth, capped by Nolan Harvey’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer.

“It was the first time that we’ve hosted an NCAA regional event in any sport,” said coach Terry Butterfield, the former Virginia Wesleyan coach who assumed his role in 2000 before the program’s third year of existence. “A couple years ago, we played Wheaton in a one-game deal where we got a bye in the first round, and they had to play Mary Hardin-Baylor. Then they played us in a Saturday game. But never have we had four teams here in a regional.

“That was a big, big deal for our athletic department and for our university.”

Kyle Schleigh, the ASC Player of the Year, scored 24 points against Chapman and added 25 in the win over Whitworth to highlight the weekend.

“In my four years playing at UT-Dallas, it was probably the most fun I had in a weekend of basketball,” said Schleigh, who was named third-team All-American a year ago and has averaged 17.9 points and 8.1 rebounds per game this season.

Despite spring break beginning last Friday, students still poured into the arena to see UT-Dallas in action. The Comets rose to the occasion.

“The last thing you want to do, when given an opportunity, is to lay a big egg,” Butterfield said. “It was the best atmosphere that I’ve seen here in the 14 years that I’ve been here.”

The two victories over Chapman and Whitworth, increases Dallas’ school-record win total to 27. The Comets (27-3 overall) will make their third appearances in the Sweet 16 and their first since 2010. UT-Dallas also advanced to the Elite Eight in 2009.

“We’re very much in our infancy still. We’ve done a lot of great things in a short period of time,” said Butterfield, whose team won its third American Southwest Conference title this year with a 20-2 league record. “It’s the kids. We’re getting really, really good kids that are smart and motivated and good players.”

The type of men on this year’s squad are reminiscent to those players from the 2009 and 2010 teams, according to the coach. But the Comets realize they will have to play well if they hope to reach the Final Four.

UT-Dallas, ranked No. 16 nationally, will take on third-ranked UW-Whitewater on Friday at the Quandt Fieldhouse in Stevens Point, Wis. The winner advances to face host and top-ranked UW-Stevens Point or Emory.

“As you can imagine, the kids are extremely excited to still be playing,” Butterfield said. “They know what lies ahead. They know how good Wisconsin basketball is – both Whitewater and Stevens Point.

“We’re in for a heck of a challenge.”

Although respected teams stand between the Comets and Salem, Va., they are not about to lay down.

“There is nobody in the thing that just wants to be along for the ride. We all want to win. And we all want to win badly, and we’re going to do everything we can to prepare to win,” Butterfield said. “But I want our kids to go and compete like crazy and be the most competitive they’ve been all year. Then let’s see where the chips fall after that.”

After adding last weekend’s comeback win over Whitworth to a list of other impressive finishes, this group is confident they can compete with anyone.

“The kids just weren’t ready to be done,” Butterfield said. “I think coming back from the dead like we did on Saturday gives our kids a lot of motivation moving forward.”

“We’ve been down double-digits multiple times in the second half – probably three or four games. We have had to show resilience and character to fight back and claw our way back,” Schleigh added. “I’d definitely say we’re battle-tested.”

Schleigh’s versatility lends itself to UT-Dallas’ success in many ways. Butterfield hopes that translates into more wins.

“He’s very multidimensional. He can shoot the ball pretty well and he can put it on the floor,” Butterfield said. “He just has a knack for being able to score. And yet, he’s a guy who’s going to give the ball to the open man if he’s got a better shot. Sometimes I have to get after him – I don’t think he shoots enough.”

Matthew Medell chips in 15.2 points per game, Harvey averages 13.7 and Dmitriy Chernikov adds 11.2 on average to round out UT-Dallas’ attack.

“We believe we have as good a chance as anybody,” Schleigh said. “We’re going to play with confidence and we’re going to play as hard as we can to try and get the result that we want.”