For all of the success that UTEP has enjoyed since joining Conference USA eight years ago, a 3-0 start in league play has eluded the Miners all but one time.
The 2005-06 squad – in its first year of C-USA affiliation and under the direction of coach Doc Sadler – won its first five league games, knocking off SMU twice (80-67 and 57-53), East Carolina (58-45), Tulane (75-47) and Marshall (53-51).
UTEP started 2-0 in C-USA play in 2006-07 and 2007-08 before stumbling on the road to Tulsa (86-79 in overtime) and Houston (77-72) respectively.
The Miners (9-6, 2-0 C-USA) find themselves in a similar position this year, trying to move to 3-0 in a hostile environment on Wednesday at Tulsa (10-7, 2-1 C-USA).
UTEP has struggled mightily at the Donald W. Reynolds Center, posting a 3-12 mark in the venue. Overall UTEP has won just four times in its last 18 trips to Tulsa.
“We have an opportunity to play a team that has always been a problem for us on the road,” coach Tim Floyd said. “They have a new formula that they’re using with a new coaching staff. They’re playing personnel that we’re not overly familiar with.”
Under the direction of first-year head coach Danny Manning, Tulsa has won three of its last four games, including a 64-51 victory over Rice on Saturday at the Reynolds Center. Tulsa outscored Rice 38-18 in the second half, shooting 56.3 percent from the field and 87 percent (20-for-23) from the line after the break. The Hurricane started two freshmen guards against Rice, including Shaquille Harrison who scored a season-high 14 points.
Overall four Tulsa freshmen have earned starting nods this season -- Harrison (17 starts), forward Zeldric King (one), guard James Woodard (17) and forward D’Andre Wright (eight).
Sophomore forward Rashad Smith averaged a team-leading 14.5 points in the first four games but has been out since with a foot injury. He is not expected to be available for the UTEP game. Woodard (12.9 ppg), junior guard Pat Swilling Jr. (10.5 ppg), and senior guard Scottie Haralson (9.5 ppg) are the team’s other top scorers.
Tulsa is third in C-USA in field goal percentage defense (.399). Harrison leads the league in steals (2.0 avg.) and has eight thefts in three C-USA games.
Tulsa is 6-1 at the Reynolds Center this season with wins over LSU Shreveport (110-54), Jackson State (86-66), Missouri State (61-42), TCU (50-49), Buffalo (63-57) and Rice (64-51), and a loss to Stephen F. Austin (57-41).
The Golden Hurricane has been scouting UTEP since Sunday. Coach Floyd and his staff took their first look at the Tulsa film late Monday night following a 72-44 win over Houston Baptist.
“It’s a quick turnaround game for us,” Floyd said. “It’s very important because it’s a league game. They have had extra time to prepare for us, and we have to travel. All those things can stack up against you, but we’re hopeful that we can go over there and defend and give ourselves an opportunity to win on the road.”