BELTON — Mary Hardin-Baylor’s basketball teams begin their respective conference tournaments today knowing they have to bury the weaknesses they’ve shown at times but also confident that their strengths could carry them through.

“If we’ll go compete, if we’ll just go play hard ... we can’t do what we’ve done. We have to go get better, because somebody’s going to,” Crusaders coach Ken DeWeese said. “One team is going to get a little better each day and they’re going to win it. So that’s what we’re trying to get done.”

For both third-seeded UMHB teams, it starts at noon today when the Crusaders (17-8) face Louisiana College (11-13) at UTD Activity Center in Richardson in the first round of the men’s American Southwest Conference tournament while the Lady Crusaders (16-9) take on Ozarks (10-15) at Herrington Patriot Center in Tyler in a first-round women’s matchup.

“There’s a higher stake with tournament games,” Lady Crusaders junior guard Macy Moore said. “All of the teams will have a little fire in them.”

On the men’s side, UMHB enters the tournament on an eight-game win streak. The defending NCAA Division III national runner-up Crusaders won 14 of their last 18 regular-season games and will need to win three games in three days in Richardson to secure a berth in the NCAA tournament.

If the Crusaders win today, Saturday’s 1 p.m. semifinal against Hardin-Simmons (17-8) or Sul Ross State (11-14) would mark the first time they’ve played games on back-to-back days this season.

“It’s going to be a different experience as far as just this season goes for all of us,” DeWeese said.

The Crusaders are led by seniors James Allen (18.5 points per game), Antonie Chaney (13.3) and Kitrick Bell (12.2 points, 8.1 rebounds) and junior Jerard Graham (15.7 points, 9.2 boards).

Lady Crusaders

Similarly, the Lady Crusaders changed since their seven-game win streak in the middle of the season.

Leading scorer and rebounder Taylor Tucker is done for the year with a knee injury, and UMHB is relying on lone senior Jovana Miles (12.4 points, 8.6 rebounds) and juniors Moore (13.4 points) and Alyssa Dean (13.3).

Like Bell, Allen and Chaney from the men’s team, the next loss will end the career of Miles.

“Jovana isn’t really vocal, and I don’t know if that’s really hit her yet,” second-year Lady Crusaders coach Lisa Curliss-Taylor said. “She’s doing what she can to help carry this team with Taylor out.”

UMHB swept Ozarks in the regular season by scores of 79-66 and 79-69.

Another win today would push the Lady Crusaders into a 1 p.m. semifinal Saturday against Texas-Dallas (20-5) or Concordia Texas (11-14).

“Anybody you play is going to be tough, but it’s good that Ozarks isn’t really a pressing team,” Curliss-Taylor said. “They have thicker, bigger guards and pretty good post play. ”

The championship games of both tournaments are set for 2 p.m. Sunday.

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