UTEP, Air Force Battle For Sun Bowl Invitational Title
Dec. 29, 2009
Old Western Athletic Conference rivals UTEP (8-2) and Air Force (7-4) battle for the Bank of the West Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational title on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. The Miners are making their 40th appearance in the title game in the 48th year of the tournament. UTEP has come away with the crown on 27 occasions. The Miners, champions of the last edition of the tournament in 2008, are seeking back-to-back titles for the 14th time in event history. UTEP's last consecutive Sun Bowl tournament championships came in 2003 and 2004.
Niagara (7-5) will face Norfolk State (1-9) in the tournament consolation game at 5:30 p.m., with the championship to commence 30 minutes following the finish of that game.
UTEP has posted an all-time record of 73-22 in the tournament, which originated in 1961.
UTEP blasted Norfolk State, 93-56, on Monday night, scoring the game's first 17 points. Air Force advanced to the final by topping Niagara, 77-71. The Falcons took the lead for good, 38-36, on a three-pointer by Tom Fow with 17:20 remaining, although Niagara did close the gap to one point in the final minute.
The Falcons are defense oriented -- yielding 60.9 points per game with a .397 opponent field goal percentage -- and should provide a challenge to a UTEP team averaging 84.5 points per contest. Air Force has played only one road game this season, dropping a 58-48 decision at Missouri State on Dec. 5 (the Bears are 10-1 overall and 7-0 at home including wins over Auburn and Tulsa).
Senior forward/center Grant Parker averages a team-leading 17.1 ppg for Air Force, while junior forward Tom Fow and junior guard Evan Washington average 13.4 and 13.0 ppg, respectively. Washington provided a game-high 19 points while adding eight rebounds in the Falcons' win over Niagara. Air Force shot 54.2 percent and outrebounded Niagara 40-30.
UTEP leads the series 34-5, including 20-2 in El Paso. The Miners and Falcons are meeting for the first time since Dec. 28, 2002, a 63-45 Air Force win in the consolation game of the same Sun Bowl Tournament. The Falcons' only other win on the Miners' home floor came on Feb. 26, 1994 by a score of 70-68.
Air Force was one of eight schools that split from the WAC in 1999 to form the Mountain West Conference, joining BYU, Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV, Utah and Wyoming. UTEP has posted a 5-7 record versus the aforementioned schools since the split (0-1 versus Air Force, 4-2 versus New Mexico, 0-2 versus UNLV, 0-2 versus Utah, 1-0 versus Wyoming).