Miners Start Fresh in Conference USA Championship
March 4, 2012
UTEP (14-16) makes its seventh appearance in the Conference USA Championship this week. The eighth seed Miners will take on the ninth seed Houston Cougars (15-14) at 5:30 p.m. MT at the FedExForum on Wednesday. The winner will advance to the tournament quarterfinals and meet host Memphis (23-8) on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. MT.
UTEP is 7-6 in C-USA Championship games, reaching the semifinals in 2006 & 2008 and the final in 2010 & 2011. The Miners are 3-4 in C-USA Championship games in Memphis.
UTEP was seeded third in the 2006 championship, 10th in 2007, sixth in 2008, fourth in 2009, first in 2010 and third in 2011.
The Miners' all-time conference tournament record is 34-21 (includes a forfeit against Hawaii in the 1996 WAC Tournament). UTEP captured WAC Tournament crowns in 1984, 1986, 1989, 1990 and 2005.
UTEP has never been seeded eighth in a postseason tournament. The no. 8 seed has posted an all-time record of 8-16 in the C-USA Championship and has never won the tournament. The lowest seed ever to win the title was no. 9 seed Saint Louis in 2000.
The no. 8 seed has beaten the no. 9 seed in the tournament four of six times since the conference's realignment for the 2005-06 season. Last year no. 8 East Carolina downed no. 9 UCF, 75-60, in El Paso.
UTEP's all-time record as the higher seed in C-USA Championship games is 5-4.
UTEP VS. HOUSTON
The Miners and the Cougars split two regular season games, with each team winning on its home floor. UTEP posted a 70-50 victory at the Don Haskins Center on Jan. 28, and Houston outlasted the Miners in overtime at Hofheinz Pavilion, 81-76, on Jan. 28.
In the first meeting between the schools, senior forward Gabriel McCulley scored 22 points and the Miners outscored the Cougars 37-19 in the second half. UH shot 27.6 percent in the second half and was outrebounded 25-9 -- including 20-6 on the defensive glass. The Miners shot 66.7 percent over the final 20 minutes.
In the rematch, Jonathon Simmons scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half for the Cougars, who rallied from a 15-point deficit. UTEP led 38-23 late in the first half and 58-47 with a little over six minutes to play. After the Miners took a 63-55 lead with 4:46 to go in regulation, they went four minutes without a field goal until sophomore center John Bohannon's layup tied the game at 66 with 50 seconds left. Houston also erased a four-point deficit (76-72) in the final 40 seconds of OT, scoring the game's last nine points. Bohannon led the Miners with 17 points and 13 rebounds.
UTEP VS. HOUSTON ... A LITTLE DEEPER
The Miners averaged 73.0 points in the first two games against the Cougars this season, shooting 53.2 percent from the field, 45 percent from three-point territory and 60 percent from the line. UTEP held Houston to 65.5 ppg with a .427 field goal percentage, .303 three-point field goal percentage and .700 free throw percentage.
UTEP outrebounded UH by an average of 5.5 boards (35.5-30.0) in the two contests, including 54-40 on the defensive end. The Miners' leading scorers against Houston were freshman forward Julian Washburn (17.5 ppg), senior forward Gabriel McCulley (16.5 ppg), sophomore center John Bohannon (15.5 ppg) and sophomore guard Michael Perez (12.0 ppg).
McCulley (.684), Washburn (.652) and Bohannon (.632) all shot better than 60 percent from the field, and Bohannon went to the line a team-leading 13 times. Bohannon also averaged 12.0 rebounds and had three of UTEP's four blocks in the two games. Junior guard Jacques Streeter dished out seven assists with only one turnover in a combined 72 minutes.
UTEP and Houston are meeting in the C-USA Championship for the fourth time in five years. The Miners are 1-2 versus the Cougars in the event, posting an 80-77 win in the 2008 quarterfinals and losing in the 2009 quarterfinals (89-85 in OT) and 2010 title game (81-73).
UTEP leads the overall ledger 13-9. UTEP and Houston have played 17 games as members of C-USA (including three in the postseason tournament), and 14 have been decided by eight points or less.
While Houston enters the C-USA Championship riding wins in four of its last five games, UTEP has been saddled with three consecutive losses following a four-game winning streak that featured wins over C-USA's top three teams (Memphis, Southern Miss, Tulsa). UTEP's three-game losing streak is the second-longest in C-USA behind Tulane's (seven).
The Miners have entered the conference tournament on the heels of a losing streak of three games or more six times previously (1991, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2007). Only the `02-03 squad was able to shake off the late-season blues and win a league tournament game, polishing off San Jose State in the WAC Championship play-in round (86-80) before bowing out to top seed Tulsa in the quarterfinals (81-47).
UTEP COACH Tim Floyd
Tim Floyd is in his 18th season as a collegiate head coach and brings a 367-206 record into the Conference USA Championship. Floyd is 39-26 in his second year with the Miners.
Floyd's record in 17 previous conference tournaments is 23-14 with three tournament titles (New Orleans 1990, Iowa State 1996, USC 2009) and nine appearances in the title game. He led the Miners to a 2-1 record and runner-up finish in last year's C-USA Championship.
Floyd is 3-1 when coaching against Houston and 5-2 when coaching against the Cougars' James Dickey.
UTEP'S C-USA CHAMPIONSHIP EXPERIENCE
Only four players on this year's UTEP roster -- senior forward Gabriel McCulley, sophomore center John Bohannon, sophomore guard Michael Perez and walk-on junior guard Tyler Tafoya -- have C-USA Championship experience. They have combined to play in 12 games led by McCulley's seven.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
UTEP is 10-1 this season and 21-1 under Tim Floyd when shooting 50 percent or better ... the Miners are 2-12 this season when shooting between 40 & 49 percent and 2-3 when shooting less than 40 percent ... UTEP is 13-7 when shooting a higher percentage than its opponent (1-9 when shooting a lesser percentage) ... the Miners are 6-2 when holding opponents under 40 percent shooting ... UTEP is 9-3 this season and 24-3 under Floyd when outrebounding opponents ... UTEP has led with five minutes to go in just 11 of its 30 games, with five wins when trailing at the five-minute mark ... UTEP is 8-4 this season and 22-5 under Floyd when scoring 70+ points ... the Miners are 9-3 in 2011-12 and 24-3 under Floyd when outrebounding opponents ... UTEP is 9-5 when senior forward Gabriel McCulley scores in double figures (4-8 when he does not).
UTEP ON NEUTRAL FLOORS
UTEP played three of its best games of the year on a neutral floor this season. The Miners went 2-1 versus teams from power conferences at the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu in late December. UTEP beat Clemson (61-48) and Auburn (83-76) and lost to Kansas State (78-70) at the Stan Sheriff Center. Leading the way was sophomore guard Michael Perez, who averaged 17.7 ppg in the tournament and made 9-of-15 three-point field goals (.600).
The Miners are 3-2 in neutral site games in two seasons under coach Tim Floyd.
UTEP AT THE FEDEXFORUM
The Miners are 5-6 all-time in games played at the FedExForum (3-4 in the C-USA Championship, 2-2 at Memphis). UTEP scored its only road win to date (1-10 record) on Feb. 18 over the host Tigers, 60-58. It was UTEP's second straight win at Memphis, including a 72-67 triumph on Jan. 20, 2010 that ended the Tigers' NCAA record-tying 64-game conference winning streak. UTEP is the first C-USA school to win back-to-back games at Memphis since Louisville during the 2004-05 season.
THE REGULAR SEASON IN BRIEF
The Miners finished 14-16 overall and 7-9 in Conference USA play (tied for eighth place). UTEP won the tiebreaker over ninth-seed Houston by beating top seed Memphis, 60-58, on Feb. 18 at the FedExForum (the Cougars lost to the Tigers, 89-55, on Jan. 14 at Hofheinz Pavilion).
UTEP started the season 1-3 and has gone 13-13 since the return of senior forward Gabriel McCulley, who missed the first four games while recovering from surgery for a stress fracture in his shin.
The Miners are playing without two injured big men, 6-7 Malcolm Moore and 6-10 Hooper Vint. Freshman forward Cedrick Lang has been playing with a stress fracture in his foot for the last 12 games, and his practice time has been limited to game day shootarounds during that time.
The Miners beat Memphis, Southern Miss, Tulsa, Clemson, Auburn and New Mexico State during the regular season, and were competitive in losses to Oregon (64-59), UNLV (65-54), Kansas State (78-70) and Colorado State (56-53).
UTEP was 11-5 at home this season and 1-10 on the road, with three road losses (Oregon, Houston, Rice) by five points or less.
A ROLLERCOASTER RIDE OF A SEASON
UTEP has been a streaky bunch this season, particularly in Conference USA play. The Miners have lost four games in a row once and three games in a row twice, and have won four in a row once and three in a row once. The Miners have alternated three or four-game winning or losing streaks in their last 11 games. UTEP needs a win on Wednesday against Houston to avoid tying its longest losing streak under coach Tim Floyd, originally established from Jan. 21-Feb. 4.
The Miners have played 17 games decided by less than 10 points this season, posting a 7-10 record. Of UTEP's 16 Conference USA games, 11 were decided by single digits, including 11 of the last 13. UTEP played eight straight conference games decided by less than 10 points for the first time since 1995 from Jan. 21-Feb. 22.
UTEP's top four scorers are separated by five tenths of a point, with all averaging at least 11 points per game. Freshman forward Julian Washburn went from fourth on the team in scoring to first with a career-high 21 points in the regular season finale at SMU. He is averaging 11.5 ppg. The last time Washburn was leading the team in scoring entering a game was on Dec. 14 at UNLV, when he was averaging 10.3 ppg.
Eight different players have led UTEP in scoring in games this season, the highest total since nine did so during the 2003-04 campaign.
WHERE'S THE OFFENSE?
While scoring has been a problem for the Miners all season long -- they're averaging 63.6 ppg, their third-lowest figure in the last 34 years -- they have really had trouble putting the ball in the hole over the last eight games. During that span UTEP has averaged 58.5 ppg, and that includes the 76 in a double-overtime win over Southern Miss on Feb. 22 (the Miners have averaged 56.0 ppg in regulation in their last eight outings).
The Miners shot 32.6 percent the last time out at SMU, their second-worst effort of the season. Coupled with a .364 shooting night against Rice on Feb. 29, UTEP has shot less than 40 percent in back-to-back games versus conference opponents for the first time since February of 2009 (.292 versus SMU, .379 at Tulane). UTEP has also had one double-figure scorer in three of its last eight games.
THE DEFENSE IS STILL THERE
UTEP's last eight opponents have averaged 60.3 points, including 58.8 in regulation (Southern Miss tacked on 12 more points in two overtime periods on Feb. 22). The Miners have held eight straight C-USA foes under 70 points, one game shy of their longest streak under coach Tim Floyd (nine from Jan. 12-Feb. 19, 2011).
MORE ON THE MINERS' STOUT "D"
UTEP has kept five of its last seven opponents under 40 percent shooting, including the top four seeds in the C-USA Championship -- Memphis (.375), Southern Miss (.375), Tulsa (.339) and UCF (.383).
This year the Miners went through a full conference season without permitting a team to shoot 50 percent for the first time since 2005-06, when they played only 14 league games.