Sizing up Saturday's trip to resurgent Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, UNO men's basketball coach Mark Slessinger admitted his team would have a tall task completing a season sweep.
He could have been referring to every game left on the schedule.
Locked in a tight, five-way race for the Southland Conference title, UNO (12-12, 9-3) faces the toughest road the rest of the way. Starting with Corpus-Christi (8-13, 5-6), which had won four in a row before falling by two points at Sam Houston State (15-10, 9-3) on Wednesday, the Privateers play six teams with a combined conference record of 46-23. Four of those games are against their fellow contenders.
The conference record of their first 12 opponents is 48-89.
Still, Slessinger looks forward to the challenge.
"The parity in this league this year is as good as it's even been from top to bottom," he said. "Corpus Christi started off slow and has been played great basketball lately. It will be a very difficult trip down there, but across the board it's going to be like this the rest of the month. People are going to be beating each other up."
On paper, though, the other contenders have an easier path to the title, ranging from preseason favorite Stephen F. Austin, whose remaining opponents are 34-48 in conference play, to Sam Houston State, whose opponents are 41-26. Current leader Nicholls State (opponent record: 40-42) and Southeastern Louisiana (opponent record: 38-32), which is tied with Sam Houston and UNO a half-game behind the Colonels, are in the middle in terms of difficulty.
The Privateers have had a week to recover from a disappointing 81-64 loss to Nicholls at Lakefront Arena in a battle for first place.
"We had a great opportunity to give ourselves a little breathing room and build a lead, and we left that opportunity on the table," Slessinger said. "That's the most frustrating part for our guys. I want them to have an opportunity for a championship, for a lifetime memory."
UNO wanted to keep that game in the 60s, but Nicholls, the Southland's highest scoring team, had 51 points by the 15:00 mark of the second half.
"We let them speed us up and didn't play with good poise," senior forward Travin Thibodeaux said. "That got us out of the rhythm we like to play at."
One bright spot was the explosion of sophomore backup guard Bryson Robinson, who scored all 22 of his points in the second half. Part of it was pure volume as the Privateers became desperate-he launched a whopping 14 treys and hit five--but he can add instant offense.
On Jan. 6, he poured in a career-high 31 points while making 7 of 8 3-pointers in an overtime victory against McNeese State.
"He's always in the gym working on his shot," Thibodeaux said. "It's just confidence with him. This was a big game for him and I expect him to play the same way as we continue through conference."
With Thibodeaux as the lone constant, the Privateers have been doing it by committee in their attempt to win their second straight Southland title. If Robinson emerges as a consistent scorer, that daunting schedule will become more manageable.
"There's still a lot of time," Robinson said. "We're not going to allow that (Nicholls) loss to haunt us. We are going to get better in practice and win this championship."