Miners Focused on Rice With C-USA Tourney Bye in Sight

Julian Washburn

March 1, 2013

UTEP-Rice Game 2 Notes (PDF)Get Acrobat Reader

UTEP will play two of its last three regular season games on the road, looking to salt away a bye in the first round of the Conference USA Tournament.

The Last Meeting
February 6, 2013
Don Haskins Center
Miners Bust Rice Zone in 65-53 Win
C.J. Cooper connected on a career-high four three point field goals, and UTEP tied its season high with 10 trifectas on Wednesday at the Don Haskins Center.

The Miners (15-12, 8-5 C-USA) will take on Rice (5-22, 1-12 C-USA) on Saturday at noon MT in Houston, shooting for a season sweep of the Owls.

If the C-USA Tournament started today, the Miners would be the third seed with UCF ineligible to participate. The Miners are a game up on the next team in the standings, East Carolina, and own the tiebreaker over the Pirates with a 68-67 win in Greenville on Jan. 26.

Memphis and Southern Miss have clinched byes in the tournament. Entering play on Saturday, there are five times battling for the other three spots -- UTEP, East Carolina, Tulane, Tulsa and UAB. If the Miners win on Saturday, the loser of the Tulane and Tulsa game later in the afternoon would be eliminated from contention for a bye. UAB would also be eliminated with a loss at home to SMU.

The Miners control their own destiny and will be a heavy favorite against a Rice team that has struggled this season. UTEP Coach Tim Floyd, however, is wary of the Owls, who sprung a 79-69 upset of Houston on their home floor earlier in the year.

"As Houston found out, you have to play, and you have to respect who you're playing," he said.

Floyd doesn't look at Rice and see a 5-22 team. He sees a dangerous adversary that is improving every game.

"What I noticed in their last game [at SMU] was a really spirited comeback on the road," he said. "They played with great character, effort and heart, cutting a 17-point deficit to six late in the second half. We know it won't be easy."

All five of the Owls' victories have come at Tudor Fieldhouse, where they have defeated St. Edward's (75-63), Houston Baptist (61-53), Chicago State (63-60), New Orleans (95-71) and Houston (79-69).

When the Owls are knocking down three pointers, they become doubly dangerous. Rice has attempted the second-most three point shots (596) in the league behind East Carolina (597). The Owls are also second in C-USA in three-point makes (197) behind the Pirates (201).

Rice has outrebounded two teams all season, and one was UTEP on Feb. 6 at the Don Haskins Center. Add in the fact that the Owls will likely play zone - a defense that has frustrated the Miners this season - and it has the makings of a trap game.

"We expect to play against a team that will shoot a lot of threes and shoot them well," Floyd said. "They create matchup problems for us. Our strength in the last game was our two big guys [John Bohannon and Cedrick Lang, who combined for 34 points and 27 rebounds against Houston Wednesday]. They make it very difficult to play two big guys because it's a five out motion [offense].

"Everybody is going to be beyond the three-point line all night long, and they can all shoot it. They shoot a lot of threes, and it forces the big guys to come out on the floor and have to guard in matchups that they're not accustomed to."

After Saturday, the Miners will host C-USA champion Memphis on "Senior Night" Tuesday at 7 before closing out the regular season slate next weekend at SMU.



The Big Picture Photo Galleries
Follow The Miners