In the first 21 games of the season, UTEP opponents averaged 60.8 points while shooting 41.5 percent from the field and 33.6 percent from three-point range. In the last two outings, they fired at a 49.5 percent (52-for-105) clip, including 57.7 percent (15-for-26) from beyond the arc, while scoring 74 and 79 points.
If the Miners are going to put a stop to their first losing streak since late November, it’s pretty clear what’s going to have to change on Saturday night against UCF (7 p.m., Don Haskins Center).
“We’re working on our defense, because it was really below average in the last ballgame,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “We’ll see if we can’t get UCF in a game that gives us a chance to win. We had no chance over at Houston the other night. We just couldn’t stop them.”
The Knights (17-7, 7-3 C-USA) are in third place in the C-USA standings, a game ahead of the Miners (13-10, 6-4), who drifted back in the pack with Wednesday’s 79-61 loss to the Cougars.
Preseason Conference USA Player of the Year Keith Clanton leads UCF in scoring (15.8 ppg), rebounding (8.9 rpg) and blocks (2.1 bpg). The senior forward is shooting 57.7 percent from the field.
Junior guard/forward Isaiah Sykes is averaging 15.7 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 4.5 apg and 2.0 spg. He is the team leader in scoring (16.1 ppg), rebounding (8.3 rpg), assists (4.1 apg) and steals (2.2 spg) for C-USA games. Sykes is the national leader in triple-doubles with two (versus Stetson and East Carolina).
Lending support are junior guard Calvin Newell and junior forward Tristan Spurlock, who average 11.3 ppg and 11.0 ppg respectively. Newell transferred to UCF from Oklahoma after appearing in 36 games for the Sooners.
UCF leads C-USA in three-point field goal percentage defense (.313). The Knights are second in blocked shots (4.8 avg.), and third in field goal percentage (.472) and three-pointers made per game (7.0).
“They are a very poised team,” Floyd said. “They are a team that doesn’t foul much [no. 4 in the nation, 13.0 personals per game]. They’re a team that passes the ball exceedingly well. They’re athletic. But they don’t play too fast or in a big hurry. They play with a lot of poise.”
Floyd also took some time on Friday to comment on Tim Hardaway’s selection as one of 12 finalists for the Basketball Hall of Fame. Hardaway played for the Miners from 1985-89, and still ranks first in school history in steals (262), second in assists (563) and fifth in scoring (1,586 points).
“I think the whole university would just be elated and proud of Tim is he is selected,” Floyd said. “If he doesn’t get in on this ballot, my guess is he will probably get in on the next go-round. He sure represented the school well while he was in the NBA.”
Floyd laughed when asked if he was responsible for recruiting Hardaway.
“I wanted the other guy, and [assistant coach] Rus Bradburd insisted on Tim,” he said. “So Rus gets the credit for him. There was another kid in Chicago who I thought was a pretty good player. I deferred to Rus, since that was his hometown.
“The thing I remember about the situation is we brought the two kids in together. The other kid who I liked was a big name. Tim had no name. Tim wanted to come. The other guy got scared when he heard that Tim wanted to come, and went to Bradley University. And as a result, we got the right guy. Sometimes you can tell who you really want by who really wants to come and who doesn’t.”