A UTEP team that has had to scratch and claw for points will go up against a UNLV squad scoring over 80 per game on Monday night (6 p.m., Don Haskins Center). But the addition of two talented transfers gives the Miners a shot at cracking the 70-point mark for the first time this season, and giving the 20th-ranked Rebels all that they can handle in the process.
The backcourt figures to be bolstered immensely by the return of 6-4 Konner Tucker and the possible insertion of 6-6 McKenzie Moore, who could be cleared to start practicing as early as Saturday.
The question is how much and how soon Tucker and Moore can contribute.
Tucker broke his hand in a 70-63 exhibition victory over Southeastern Oklahoma State on Nov. 3. He scored 11 points in 16 minutes in that game, burying three three-pointers. Tucker has been back practicing for about week.
“I have no idea what to expect from Konner. No clue,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “I’m not very good at prognosticating. Based on practice, the hand has been a little tender. He has been guarded in terms of sticking that alarm into the mix and getting it bent or tweaked. I don’t know how aggressive he can be, and I don’t know how much confidence he has in his hand.”
Moore is even more of a wild card. The City College of San Francisco transfer is supremely talented, but has been on the shelf for a year.
Floyd was asked at practice on Friday if he has ever encountered a situation where a potential impact player was thrown into a game a month into the season with little or no preparation.
“I have been in that situation before, and generally it was with 6-10 or 6-11 players like Ervin Johnson [New Orleans] and Kelvin Cato [Iowa State],” Floyd said. “In their case, we just said ‘Go rebound the ball and go block shots. If you rebound and you can’t dunk, throw it back out to somebody else and get out of the way, because you don’t know what we’re doing offensively.’
“In the case here, we’ve got a guy who’s going to have to actually handle the ball, help get us into play and understand playing with others defensively. He doesn’t know the inbounds plays and what we would do if we saw a zone. There are a lot of question marks. He needs practice. How much he’ll contribute, we’ll see.”
Moore is eagerly anticipating the challenge.
“I’m really excited,” he said. “I’m just going to ease into practice, take my time and try to figure out anything I can do to help my team win. I’ve been doing a lot of running just to get myself in shape.”
UNLV moved to 8-1 by blasting La Verne on Thursday in Las Vegas. Freshman forward Anthony Bennett leads the Rebels, averaging 20.3 points per game. He is 6-8, 240 pounds and was a teammate of UTEP freshman center Matt Willms last season at Findlay Prep. UNLV lost its no. 2 scorer and rebounder Mike Moser to a dislocated elbow last week but could be adding a big man on Monday in 6-9 Pittsburgh transfer Khem Birch.
“The challenge with them is that their bigs are big-time rebounders and big-time runners,” Floyd said. “They’re going to force our big guys to run the floor. You can’t be lollygagging getting back to the other end.
“Our guards are going to have to meet the ball and get the ball stopped in transition. We cannot get one shot all night long and allow them to have four shots every time down the floor. We don’t want it to be like the Arizona or Oklahoma game where we couldn’t get into our offense. We’ve spent an awful lot of time working on post entries and wing entries and screening actions that give us an opportunity to get into play.”
The offense will come around sooner than later, and when it does Tucker and Moore should play a big role in it.
“We hope we can get better offensively,” Floyd said. “We have been limited in post-ups, we have been limited in terms of perimeter shooting and we’ve got to count on some new guys that we’re trying to integrate into play. Hopefully they’ll come in and play with a little poise and not try to do too much.
“UNLV is getting the ball up and down [the court] and they’re doing a lot of things that allow them to score points. Offensive rebounding allows you to put points on the board and getting fouled allows you to put points on the board. Those are all areas that we’ve discussed.”