Miners Hold Off Tulsa, Advance to C-USA Tournament Final

Derrick Caracter

Derrick Caracter

March 12, 2010

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Randy Culpepper scored 21 points to lead UTEP to a 75-61 victory over Tulsa in the semifinals of the Conference USA tournament on Friday.

Arnett Moultrie added 18 points, Christian Polk 13 and Derrick Caracter 10 for the top-seeded Miners (26-5), who won their 16th straight game to tie the second-longest streak in school history.

"That was a really hard feat to accomplish to beat a team as good as Tulsa three times in a year," UTEP coach Tony Barbee said. "Doug (Wojcik) has done a great job. They've got a really good team, but my team has been special all year long."

The Miners' offense was effective from the perimeter as well as the paint while their defense forced Tulsa into off-target shots. The Golden Hurricane hit 39.6 percent of its field goal attempts.

"It's really clicked for us defensively, and I've been preaching it since I've been at UTEP," Barbee said. "These guys have finally grown to understand what defense and toughness and rebounding can do for a team, because offense is going to come and go."

UTEP jumped on the Golden Hurricane early, building a 15-4 lead in the first six minutes, and never trailed for the second straight game in the C-USA Tournament. The Miners took their largest lead of the first half, 35-19, on a layup by Arnett Moultrie with 2:27 remaining.

"We talked about that before the game. One of the biggest keys - and it's always one of my biggest keys - is to start fast when you're on the road against a good team," Barbee said. "We talked about Tulsa playing two hard games where they had to play the majority of their starters for 30-plus minutes. So I talked to our team about getting the lead and making them try to catch up to us, and I thought they might run out of gas because of the extended minutes they have had to play the last two days."

Tulsa closed the gap to 10 points (35-25) at the break, but the Miners opened the second half with a 14-4 run to seize a 20-point advantage at 49-29. UTEP duplicated the 20-point lead at 59-39 and 61-41 before a late Golden Hurricane rally came up short.

After Tulsa pulled within eight points (69-61) on a layup by Bryson Pope with 2:14 to play, Polk made two free throws to give the Miners some breathing room. Culpepper put it away on a driving layup with 1:09 left.

Moultrie had one of his better games in a UTEP uniform by making 8-of-10 shots. The Miners shot 51.9 percent from the floor.

The Golden Hurricane (23-11) was led by Justin Hurtt, who scored a game-high 22 points. Jerome Jordan, Tulsa's leading scorer entering the game, had a double-double with 11 points and 15 rebounds.

UTEP will play the winner of Houston-Southern Miss game for the conference title on Saturday at 9:30 a.m. MT. The game will be nationally televised on CBS.

The Miners will be appearing in a conference tournament final for the 11th time in school history and the first time since 2005, when they won the Western Athletic Conference championship.



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