POSTED: Friday, February 25, 2011 - 2:49pm
UPDATED: Saturday, February 26, 2011 - 9:41pm
UTEP (20-8, 8-5 C-USA) and Memphis (21-7, 9-4 C-USA) do battle before a national television (ESPN2) audience on Saturday at the Don Haskins Center. Tip-off is slated for 1:05 p.m. MT. Both teams remain in the thick of the Conference USA title chase, with the Tigers tied for first place with Southern Miss and UAB, and the Miners a game off the pace.
The Miners have three regular season games remaining before hosting the Conference USA Tournament March 9-12. On the docket for next week are a home game versus Marshall (March 2) and a road date with SMU (March 5). The top four teams in the league earn opening round byes in the C-USA Tournament. UTEP is currently tied for fourth place in the league standings with SMU and Tulsa. The combined record of the Miners’ final three C-USA regular season opponents is 57-26.
UTEP is 15-2 at home this season but dropped its last game at the Haskins Center, 73-68 to UCF on Monday. The Miners had won 15 straight games on their home floor before being upset by the Knights. UTEP will be playing its fourth game in eight days on Saturday after power outages caused by arctic temperatures in El Paso forced the postponement of the UCF game from Feb. 2 to Feb. 21.
The Tigers topped Houston, 69-58, in their last action at the FedExForum on Tuesday. Freshman forward Tarik Black scored 16 points and junior swingman Wesley Witherspoon added 13 off the bench for Memphis, which reserved 24 points from its reserves.
The Tigers have won five of six games since being saddled with their only losing streak of the season from Jan. 29-Feb. 2. The lone loss during that span was a 67-52 upset at the hands of the Rice Owls on Feb. 19 in Houston.
Memphis is averaging 73.9 points per game (second in C-USA) with nine players collecting at least six points per contest. Leading the balanced effort are freshman guard Will Barton (12.7 ppg) and Witherspoon (11.1 ppg). Seven Tigers have scored 20 points in a game this season, the highest total among C-USA teams.
The Tigers have dominated at the FedExForum this season (16-2 record) but are 4-4 on the road, including 3-3 in C-USA action. Memphis, however, owns impressive wins at Southern Miss (76-75), UAB (76-73 in OT) and Gonzaga (62-58). The Tigers came back from 18 down to saddle Southern Miss with its lone setback to date at Reed Green Coliseum.
The Tigers lead the series 8-2. Last year the Miners snapped a six-game losing streak in the series with a 72-67 victory at the FedExForum. UTEP is 1-3 versus Memphis in El Paso with a win during the 1971-72 season (85-79), and losses during the 1977-78 (71-65), 2006-07 (78-67) and 2008-09 (70-63) campaigns.
UTEP’s Tim Floyd is 0-4 against Memphis in his coaching career. Two of the losses took place during the 1988-89 season when he was coaching at New Orleans. Floyd’s Privateers fell 92-61 at Memphis and 73-72 on their home floor. New Orleans also lost at 17th-ranked Memphis, 59-55, during the 1989-90 campaign. On Dec. 4, 2007, Floyd’s USC squad dropped a 62-58 decision to the Tigers in overtime as part of the Jimmy V Classic.
Three players on this year’s Miner roster are Memphis natives -- senior guard Randy Culpepper (Sheffield HS), junior swingman Gabriel McCulley (Craigmont HS) and senior forward Jeremy Williams (Hamilton HS). Williams also played at Southwest Tennessee Community College in Memphis before transferring to UTEP for the 2009-10 season.
Memphis’ 64-game domination of Conference USA came to a halt as UTEP ended the Tigers’ NCAA record-tying winning streak with a 72-67 triumph at the FedExForum on Jan. 20, 2010. Memphis natives Randy Culpepper, Arnett Moultrie and Jeremy Williams scored 10 of UTEP’s points during a 13-3 run midway through the second half that sent the Miners past the Tigers. UTEP trailed 53-50 before the 13-3 run and led 63-56 after it. The seven-point cushion was the Miners’ largest of the game. Memphis pulled within 65-64 with 3:30 remaining, but the Miners held the Tigers to one field goal over the final 4:24 -- a desperation three pointer by Robert Sallie with 49 seconds to play. It was Memphis’ first loss to a Conference USA team - in regular season or tournament play - since an 80-74 setback at UAB on March 2, 2006. Williams had 18 points and 12 rebounds, and Christian Polk scored 17 points.