Kyler Erickson

Millard South graduate Kyler Erickson joined UNO’s starting lineup last week and made an impact with his play on the defensive end.

As the Summit League’s leader in assists, UNO’s Tra-Deon Hollins is used to helping others.

This past week, the junior guard was the one getting a boost from a teammate.

Hollins is the defensive stopper for the Mavericks, and he almost always draws the toughest defensive assignment each game. That changed last week when senior Kyler Erickson joined the starting lineup.

Erickson took “my guy,” Hollins said. And that allowed the national leader in steals to burn his seemingly endless energy in other areas of the game. The result was a two-game performance that brought him conference player of the week honors. Hollins averaged 21 points, seven assists, 6.5 rebounds and four steals in wins over South Dakota State and North Dakota State. But he credited Erickson with an assist.

“He took a lot of pressure off of me,” the Omaha Central grad said. “I’m involved a lot in the offense. And I chase around one of the best players on their team, if he’s a guard. It takes a lot out of me, especially with how much Coach plays me. It’s helped me a lot. He’s an Omaha guy, and he’s got that heart that I’ve got. We kind of run from the same cloth. And he can play just as well on defense as I do.”

Erickson is expected to make his third career start Wednesday when UNO (17-10) meets IUPUI (11-16) in a crucial Summit matchup. The Mavs, 9-4 in the Summit, enter the night a half-game behind league co-leaders South Dakota State and IPFW, who square off in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on Thursday.

The guard from Millard South said he’s happy to lighten the load for Hollins and fellow guard Devin Patterson. Erickson said those two are extremely important to UNO’s attack on the offensive end.

“For me, it’s, ‘How can I help the team? What can I do to help us win?’ ” he said. “I don’t care if I score zero or I score 10, whatever it is. As long as we win the game, that’s what I’m worried about. Having me take one of their top two guys takes pressure off them and helps us flow better offensively. We’re more energized. ... I kind of just stand to the side and get ready to play defense. But it works out.”

Hollins said having three natural point guards, all of whom can play defense as well as beat a defender off the dribble on the other end, in the lineup at once is a matchup nightmare for the opposing team.

“On both ends of the floor, it gives us flexibility,” UNO coach Derrin Hansen added. “If we get a long rebound, anybody can take it and other guys can just fill in. We’re not so spot specific, so to speak.”

The Mavs won the first meeting with IUPUI this season 76-71 at Baxter Arena on Jan. 3. They’re 6-1 all-time against the Jaguars, including an 87-80 double-overtime victory at this time of year last season.

UNO had little to play for then. It was out of the Summit League race and wasn’t eligible for postseason play. But it ended on a three-game winning streak, also winning in Fort Wayne and at North Dakota, and carried momentum into the offseason. Erickson said that trip to Indiana fueled the Mavs during the summer because they saw what they were capable of and knew how good they could be this year.

Hansen agreed.

“I think it played a big role,” he said. “We had a seven-day trip and three games on the road, and we knew we had no postseason in front of us. I think it said a lot about the makeup of our team.”

Things are different now. UNO has plenty on the line in Indiana this week with IUPUI sitting one game behind in the standings and IPFW a half-game ahead. Saturday’s game in Fort Wayne could be for a share of the Summit League lead, if both the Mavs and Mastodons come out on top in the midweek.

Hollins said any thoughts on IPFW can wait until after Wednesday night.

“We’ve got to take it one game at a time, because if we look ahead, we’re going to lose,” he said. “We’ve got to go in there focused and ready to play. That’s the bottom line.”

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