Miners Ready to Go to Work in Birmingham

Jake Flaggert
March 7, 2017

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The UTEP men’s basketball team arrived in Birmingham late Monday night to begin preparations for the 2017 Conference USA Championships Presented by metroPCS. The Miners (14-16) will face either fifth seed Rice or 12th-seed Southern Miss in the tournament quarterfinals on Thursday (March 9) at 1 p.m. Mountain time/2 p.m. Central.

The game will be televised on the American Sports Network and can be seen on KFOX Channel 14 in El Paso.

UTEP has won 12 of its last 15 games and is riding high after securing a first-round bye with a 74-67 victory over Charlotte in the regular season finale on Saturday at the Haskins Center.

“It’s an exciting time of the year, not only for us but the other 11 teams that are going to be in the tournament,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “Everybody is hopeful. In our case, we have given ourselves a path that is a little easier, only having to play three games to get to the NCAA Tournament versus four. We have no idea who we’re going to play, but it will be a team that is spirited and talented and very capable of beating us, so we’re going to have to play well on Thursday.”

Rice (21-10) will be a heavy favorite against Southern Miss (9-21) on Wednesday. But the Owls beat the Golden Eagles twice by a combined four points during the regular season, and had to go overtime to secure a 72-71 victory on Feb. 23 in Houston.

UTEP has enjoyed success as a no. 4 seed in conference tournaments. In five previous appearances (three in the Western Athletic Conference, one in C-USA), the Miners reached the title game three times as a no. 4 seed and won the WAC title in 1990. In the Miners’ lone appearance as a no. 4 seed in the C-USA Tourney, they bowed out to no. 5 Houston, 89-85 in overtime, in the 2009 quarterfinals. The Miners have advanced in seven straight C-USA Tournaments and eight of the last nine.

The Miners have five players who have played in a total of 16 C-USA Tournament games – Jake Flaggert (four), Omega Harris (four), Matt Willms (four), Dominic Artis (two) and Trey Touchet (two). Artis will be playing in his eighth conference tournament game on Thursday. He led Oregon to the Pac-12 Tournament championship in 2013.

UTEP has enjoyed a lot of success recently against Rice (17-4 in the last 21 meetings), not so much against Southern Miss (4-8 in the last 12 matchups). But all history goes out the window in postseason play, and the important thing is that the Miners are feeling good about themselves going in.

“The guys are confident and I think we’re healthy. That certainly helps,” Floyd said. “We have won 12 of 15 down the stretch and in the losses, we have been right there with a chance to win. We know that defense has been our calling card and offensive efficiency of late has been good. Six turnovers in the last ballgame is a nice stat. We are certainly looking forward to getting out there and competing.”

The Miners will likely go as far as their guards will carry them this time of the year, and Monday was an exciting day as Artis (second team) and Harris (third team) both earned a spot on the All-Conference USA Team. Artis, the Miners’ lone senior, will be making his last stand this week.

“That’s terrific for him [making second team All-Conference],” Floyd said. “He certainly deserves at least that. He has been a huge part of our turnaround. He has had some incredible numbers with the 400 points, 150 rebounds, 150 assists and 50 steals. He has worked as hard as any guy that I’ve had away from the floor at trying to make himself better. I think he has had a really nice final 12 of 13 ballgames for us. Defensively is where he has made his most improvement. He is a terrific rebounder as a point guard, probably the best I have had in that area.”

UTEP won at Rice, 79-71, on Feb. 18, and split two games versus Southern Miss during the regular season. The Miners lost in Hattiesburg (73-65) on Jan. 7 before beginning their 12-3 run, which included an 80-50 rout of the Golden Eagles on Feb. 11 in El Paso.

 

 

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