El Paso, TX — After a nine-day break between games – their longest of the season – the UTEP Miners will return to action on Monday (Dec. 16) against New Orleans at 7:05 p.m. in the Haskins Center.
It begins a busy pre-Christmas stretch in which UTEP (5-4) will play four games in eight days. The Miners will also host Northwestern State on Thursday (Dec. 19) and Montana State on Dec. 23, sandwiched around a matchup at Washington State on Dec. 21.
Coach Tim Floyd said the team benefitted from the extra practice time last week while simultaneously focusing on final exams.
“We had the opportunity to play three very difficult games [at the Battle 4 Atlantis], and this is our chance to learn from our problems in those games with concentrated practice effort in all areas,” he said. “As coaches we love it. I’m not sure how much the players like it.”
The Miners worked on tweaking their offense last week while continuing to seek out the right combinations of players to utilize in various situations. UTEP has employed seven different starting lineups in nine games.
“I think our practices have been really good,” Floyd said. “We’ve been able to add a little bit offensively. We’re been able to clean up our flow offensively which really bothered me, our inability to get into play. I think that has improved. We are working with different lineups. We have looked at small teams, something we have not had an opportunity to do. We have been able to focus on the areas that have not been very good, like our rebounding. Hopefully we can improve in all these areas.”
Now the Miners will take on a New Orleans squad that posted a 1-4 record in its first five games while facing the likes of LSU (81-54), Boise State (100-80), Hawaii (91-58) and Minnesota (80-65). The Privateers will take on Champion Baptist on Saturday night at Lakefront Arena before traveling to El Paso.
“It’s a school I’m very familiar with, having coached there for six years,” Floyd said. “Their new coach, Mark Slessinger, has done a great job post Katrina of getting everything back in place. They’re a very athletic team. They play multiple presses. Offensively they come at you with numbers and a lot of players playing short periods of time. They’re always fresh and play with great depth. They’re a high scoring team and they’re going to prevent challenges for us.”
Floyd was the head coach at UNO from 1988-94. The Privateers posted a mark of 127-58 during his stint at the school, with NCAA Tournament appearances in 1991 & 1993 and NIT berths in 1989, 1990 & 1994.
Floyd re-emphasized that McKenzie Moore will not play against New Orleans.
“He’ll be out and he’ll join us after that,” he said.
Even without their leading scorer, the Miners will look to sharpen their offensive game.
“We feel like we gave away a lot of opportunities in the open floor – 3 on 2, 2 on 1 situations, 4 on 3, not finishing plays, making decisions in the open floor where I think you can really measure offensive players,” he said. “And then when those things aren’t there, just getting into play and thinking about the other guys screening.
“We feel like we’ve made some strides defensively. We don’t want to give that part of it up. We’ll continue to work on it, and having this added practice time is allowing us to do both.”