This is what UMKC had in mind when it hired Kareem Richardson from Louisville two years ago.
First place in the Western Athletic Conference will be on the line when the Kangaroos play on Saturday. It’s been a decade since the program was in that position this late in the season.
UMKC made it happen with Thursday’s 70-45 victory over Texas-Pan American before 1,022 at Municipal Auditorium.
The Kangaroos improved to 5-2 in league play, 10-14 overall. On Saturday, they’ll face league-leader New Mexico State, which improved to 6-1 with an overtime victory at Chicago State on Thursday.
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UMKC opened its conference season by losing at New Mexico State by 18 points. The ’Roos have come a long ways since then, and guard Martez Harrison feels it.
“We’re playing better as a team, the energy is better,” Harrison said.
Thursday’s victory improved their home league record to 4-0, the best start at home since the program joined the Mid-Continent Conference in 1994.
The last time UMKC started this well in league play was in 2004-05 when team had a school-record 11-game winning streak under Coach Rich Zvosec, who was providing the color commentary on the television broadcast of Thursday’s game.
That team and the 2006 Kangaroos finished above .500 in league play. The ’Roos haven’t done that since.
Richardson arrived after the Louisville’s 2013 national championship season and promised a program based on defensive intensity.
It would be difficult to imagine a better defense effort than UMKC gave on Thursday. When the Broncs threw away a pass with about 1 minute remaining, they committed their 28th turnover. Most of those errors came against the Kangaroos’ half-court zone defense.
“We’re not exactly an offensive juggernaut,” Richardson said. “Our best offense starts with our defense.”
The UMKC effort was equal opportunity. Everybody who played for the Broncs was credited with at least one turnover, and the ’Roos scored 27 points off miscues.
The first half was particularly gruesome for Texas-Pan American. By the final media timeout, the Broncs had 17 points and 17 rebounds. They had one basket in the final 10:20 and none in the last 6:27.
Janari Joesaar, who entered the game as the WAC’s leading scorer at nearly 19 points per game, finished with 13 and was never a factor for the Broncs.
UMKC’s lead grew to 20 early in the second half, and the rest of the game was about managing the advantage, a task considerably easier for a team with Harrison at point guard.
Harrrison, the WAC’s second leading scorer, topped the ’Roos with 20, his 42nd consecutive game scoring in double figures. It’s the second longest streak in school history.
But Harrison’s most enthusiastic fist pump was the result of half-court bounce pass that led to Broderick Newbill’s layup with about 5 1/2 minutes remaining.
Contributions came from many. Newbill kicked in 11 off the bench, and Darius Austin had 10 points. And everybody helped on a defense. All 10 who played for UMKC was credited with at least one steal. UMKC had 15 steals overall.