El Paso, TX — The UTEP Miners will return to postseason play on Wednesday in the Haskins Center, squaring off against old Western Athletic Conference foe Fresno State in the first round of the CBI.
Tip-off is at 7 p.m.
Fresno State (17-16, 9-9 Mountain West Conference) has won nine of its last 12 games. The Bulldogs have three players averaging double figures in scoring – senior guard Tyler Johnson (16.0 ppg), sophomore guard Marvelle Harris (14.8 ppg) and sophomore guard Cezar Guerrero (12.6 ppg). They also have the Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year in forward/guard Paul Watson (10.0 ppg/4.6 rpg).
Fresno State ranks 10th nationally in turnovers per game (9.7), and Guerrero is 24th in the country in free throw percentage (.879).
“This is a team that is really quick and really fast,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “They remind me of Tulsa that way. They really shoot the ball well. They’ve got multiple inside guys that can step out, pop and shoot it. They are really athletic. They look like a Mountain West team that can go play with New Mexico, Nevada, Boise State and Colorado State and beat those teams, which they did often times this year.”
While the Miners didn’t land an invitation to the NCAA Tournament or the NIT, Floyd hopes they’ll embrace the opportunity to extend their season.
“We’ve got some young freshmen that had really good years. But I think they need to play more basketball,” he said. “We played 33 games. They all aspire to play beyond this level. If they do, they’re hoping to play 82 [games]. But who wants to play? Who likes to play? Who’s going to work in the offseason? And who’s going to play coming off of a loss, which we most recently did?
“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to play in front of a fan base that really showed their appreciation this year and came out and supported a team that was down in the dumps in late December and early January. We’re going to play against a quality team, a team that can play against anybody in our league. I look forward to the opportunity.”
The Miners should be fresh for the Bulldogs; they haven’t played since last Thursday, when they dropped a 64-56 decision to Southern Miss in the C-USA Tournament quarterfinals.
“We didn’t do anything for three days so we’re going to have our legs underneath us,” Floyd said. “I think [the keys are] re-emphasizing who we are, going over a couple of actions that Fresno State does, and trying to do things better than we did in the conference tournament like getting back on defense and rebounding it. And being prepared for all things that a new opponent might try to show you.”
Fresno State leads the series 15-12. The Miners are 10-3 versus the Bulldogs in El Paso, including 8-3 in the Don Haskins Center.
The teams are meeting for the first time since the 2004-05 season when they split a pair of matchups as members of the WAC. UTEP lost at Fresno State on Jan. 15, 2005 (66-63), and topped the Bulldogs in the DHC on Feb. 10, 2005 (93-80).
UTEP has won three of the last four matchups in the series after Fresno State won six of the previous seven games.
The teams are meeting in postseason play for the second time. On March 16, 1983, the Bulldogs nipped the Miners, 71-64, in a NIT first round game at Selland Arena. Tim Floyd was an assistant on the UTEP bench for that game.
Floor seats are $30. UTEP season ticket holders with floor seats have until 5 p.m. on Tuesday to reserve their seats by calling (915) 747-6150 before they are released to the general public. There is no other reserved seating for this game.
All other seats are $10 general admission. UTEP students gain free entry by showing a valid I.D.
The University Ticket Center number is (915) 747-5234.