Miners hit the road for only the second and third times this year. Does the first really count though? A 40 minute drive to Less Cruses. Either way, UTEP will be playing outside of the Haskins Center for the first time since November 25th, tomorrow night.
UTEP opened Conference USA against a pair of Texas schools last week in North Texas and Rice. Miners lost the opener to a good UNT team that ended up hitting some big shots down the stretch. Miners had a chance to win it on a last second Paul Thomas shot but it didn’t go in. The Miners recovered and played a great second half to beat Rice. The Miners were down at the half but with contributions by freshman Kobe, Trey Wade and Isiah Osborne, the Miners were able to pull away late.
•Matt Willms. The senior returned from in injury and played limited minutes off the bench in both games.
•Freshman. Trey Wade, Isiah Osborne, Kobe Magee, Evan Gilyard and Tirus Smith have all played an important role the past few weeks. The freshman combined to score 53 of the teams 80 points in the win versus Rice.
•Turnovers. The Miners have been doing a lot better in protecting the ball. The Miners have turned it over only 8 times per game in their last 4 games. They had turned it over 13.6 times per game in their first 10 games of the season.
•Keith Frazier. The graduate transfer has taken an indefintite leave of absence from the team. Interim head coach Phil Johnson said he expects to have him back at some point this season. Not sure if that will happen though.
•Free Throw Shooting. Miners have been hurting from the line after shooting 21-22 vs Washington St. They shot 13-22 last week for 59%.
•Losing to North Texas. Yes, the Mean Green might be getting better but the Miners had no business losing to a team that had not won in El Paso since like the 1950’s.
•Omega Harris. The senior had his lowest scoring game (5 points vs Rice) since his sophomore season.
01/04 @ Southern Miss (7-8, 0-2 C-USA)
I have no idea what it is, but since Tim Floyd became head coach of the Miners, UTEP has not won a game in Hattiesburg. They are 0-6 with the last win coming under Tony Barbee back in Feburary of 2010. This Southern Miss team is led by two Junior Guards in Cortez Edwards (16.7 PPG/5.9RPG) and a former UTEP verbal commit in Tyree Griffin (14.5 PPG/5.0 RPG/5.8 APG). Dominic Magee, another former UTEP target, joins them two in double figure with 10.1 PPG. The Golden Eagles are a really undersized team with only one guy above 6’7” on the team. Doc Sadler also does a tremendous job to have his teams ready to play so the Miners are in for a fight.
01/06 @ Louisiana Tech (9-6, 0-2 C-USA)
The Bulldogs probably faced the toughest two game stretch to open C-USA play last week. They had road games at Western Kentucky and Marshall. They are playing without arguably their best offensive player in Jalen Harris who left the school right before conference play. The Bulldogs remain talented though with guards Daquan Bracey (15.7 PPG), Jacobi Boykins (14.1 PPG), and Derric Jean (9.6 PPG). Miners will have to limit their guard penetration and from getting to the foul line. La Tech ranks in the top 30 in free throws made and attempted in the country. Also an interesting stat battle will be that the Miners have the fewest shots blocked by opponents in the country while La Tech ranks 42nd in the country in blocked shots.
•Omega ranks 19th on UTEP’s all-time scoring list with 1,198 points. Within striking distance are John Bohannon (18th, 1,204 points) Omar Thomas (17th, 1,211 points), Gary Brewster (16th, 1,213 points) and Jason Williams (15th, 1,225 points).
•The UTEP bench has outsourced the starters in 4 games this season and in both games last week.
•Freshman point guards Kobe (106 minutes – 1 turnover) and Gilyard (57 minutes – 1 turnover) have combined for 163 minutes played and only 2 turnovers over the past 4 games.
Considering it’s UTEP’s first road game in a long time I would expect to see the Miners come out a bit sluggish against Southern Miss, a place that always gives us trouble no matter how good we are. But I also do expect the Miners to come out with a win and a good game from Tirus Smith.
I don’t expect the Miners to be fortunate enough when visiting Louisiana Tech. Even without Jalen Harris the Bulldogs are going to be in the hunt for a first round bye and conference championship, they have a ton of talent and watch Boykins elevate his game. If Saturday’s matchup turns into a high scoring affair the Miners are in trouble.
The future might be now. Between Omega having an up and down year, Matt Willms’ injury and Touchet and Flaggert not getting much minutes the freshman have stepped up in big ways multiple times this season. Wade, Osborne, Smith, Magee and Gilyard have all proven more than capable to produce, with Frazier gone, they’ll have their chance.