UTEP Cagers Get Back to Work, NMSU Awaits

Cedrick Lang

Nov. 27, 2012

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The UTEP basketball team returned to El Paso on Monday afternoon, and while a battle with NM State looms on Wednesday, the Miners' focus has been as much internal as on their I-10 rivals.

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The senior forward established personal bests for points, rebounds, assists and steals as the Miners knocked off the Aggies 73-69 on Sunday.

"We really have had to just take care of ourselves," coach Tim Floyd said of the practice plan the last two days. "Scoring has been a tremendous problem for our team, and I think it's going to continue until we get Konner [Tucker] and McKenzie [Moore] in here. The baskets have been hard to come by, and things aren't going to get any easier because of the nature of some of the teams we're staring at right now, including a New Mexico State team that doesn't give you many second chance points."

UTEP will play its first home game in 19 days against NMSU with a tip-off time of 7:05 p.m.

The Aggies (3-3) have strung together consecutive wins for the first time this season, topping Northern New Mexico (67-37) on Nov. 21 and Louisiana (79-57) on Nov. 23.

NMSU has a rebound margin of +12.3 this season. The Aggies have five players 6-8 or taller, including massive 7-5, 355-pound freshman Sim Bhullar (5.0 ppg/4.7 rpg), who has nine blocked shots in six games. NMSU also has 6-9 junior Renaldo Dixon (5.5 ppg/2.0 rpg), 6-10 junior Tshilidzi Nephawe (7.7 ppg/6.2 rpg), 6-8 senior Bandja Sy (9.3 ppg/5.7 rpg) and 6-11 junior B.J. West (2.0 ppg/4.0 rpg).

Sophomore guard Daniel Mullings (14.0 ppg) and senior forward Tyrone Watson (13.0 ppg) are the team's leading scorers.

"They're going to come to play," Floyd said of NMSU. "Both teams always show up for this one. I have gone on record as saying this is one of the great rivalries that people don't know a lot about. It goes back forever. Back in the `70s and `80s, you couldn't get a ticket at either place and we always played four days apart. There were always strong feelings in that second game. Anytime you have people that see each other on a daily basis, either through a marriage or working together, it becomes really big to the fans and that tends to carry over to the arena. We hope that both teams will conduct themselves appropriately, and we hope that it will be a very competitive game." The Miners went 0-3 in the Old Spice Classic in Orlando over Thanksgiving. They were victimized by slow starts in their losses to Oklahoma and Clemson, and couldn't build on an early 7-1 lead in the Vanderbilt game, allowing the Commodores to score 19 unanswered points.

"When you get down, a lot of things are happening. You're either turning it over or you're not guarding," Floyd said. "We've had a real struggle guarding perimeter four men. They have had their way with us, going back to Grant Jerrett in the Arizona game. We've had guys I've never of before look like they can play for the Utah Jazz.

"We're going to have to shore it up. Taking care of the ball is a step in the right direction. We did that in our opener [against Oral Roberts] with seven turnovers, and were able to get some points on the board. Getting a little better defensively would help as well."

For all their struggles away from El Paso this season, the fact remains that the Miners are 1-0 at home, with a 20-point victory over a solid Oral Roberts squad. Now they'll get the opportunity to change their fortunes with a season-long six-game homestand.

Floyd was asked about the team's confidence level at practice on Tuesday and smiled.

"I think we feel like we can beat the Lakers right now. Why wouldn't we?" he said. "We just got drummed on the road. What do you mean confidence? We're trying to find some. It's what you're trying to do. We're working at it. We're still a work in progress, and certainly finding somebody that we can rely on in tough situations to go out and get a basket is a big part of what we're trying to do.

"Staying home early would've probably been what the doctor ordered. But it has been 19 days since we have been in El Paso. If we can get that old head up here with a win, maybe things can turn around."



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