UTEP Hosts WAC Co-Leader on Thursday
The UTEP Miners will try to improve to 13-1 at home on Thursday when they host Rice.
It's not an easy task, however. The Owls are 15-5 overall and tied for first place in the Western Athletic Conference with a 7-2 mark. Rice looked impressive in dispatching UTEP 84-68 on Jan. 10 at Autry Court in Houston.
"They totally dominated us on the glass and just whipped us good," said UTEP coach Billy Gillispie.
The Owls outrebounded the Miners 40-24 in the first matchup between the schools, and made 10 of 19 three-point shots. Rice went on a run after UTEP closed to within three points (46-43) on a basket by Filiberto Rivera with 14:51 remaining.
Junior forward Michael Harris is averaging 18.2 points and 9.0 rebounds for the Owls, while shooting 62 percent from the floor. Junior guard Jason McKrieth is averaging 15.3 ppg and junior guard Brock Gillespie 11 ppg. McKrieth leads the WAC in free throw percentage (.871), and senior guard Rashid Smith is first in the conference in steals (2.2 spg). The Owls are shooting 47.9 percent from the field, 39.6 percent from three-point land and 70.1 percent from the line. Rice's scoring margin (+10.5 ppg) rates second in the WAC behind UTEP (+13.1 ppg).
The Owls have beaten UTEP five straight times, and hold a 7-4 lead in the series ledger.
The Miners (15-4, 6-3 WAC) completed the first half of the WAC schedule on Saturday and stand just a game behind first-place Hawaii and Rice. However, UTEP will be on the road for five of its final nine conference games.
"We're grateful to be where we are, but we're not satisfied with where we are," Gillispie said. "We never set a goal of winning the WAC. If you set something like that out there, you lose sight of the goal to get better."
UTEP will also entertain Tulsa, which will be playing its third game in six days, on Saturday. The Golden Hurricane fell to Nevada, 89-67, on Monday in Tulsa.