Miners Look For Improvement
El Paso — After knocking off Tennessee and playing Kansas tough in the Battle 4 Atlantis, the UTEP Miners will be home for nine of their next 10 games, including an exhibition versus Angelo State on Jan. 4.
UTEP (4-4) will return to action on Saturday at 7 p.m. against Sacramento State (2-3) in the nightcap of a Haskins Center doubleheader, with the undefeated women (7-0) facing SMU (8-1) at 4:30 p.m.
Junior guards Dylan Garrity (14.0 ppg) and Mikh McKinney (13.4 ppg) are Sacramento State’s leading scorers. Together they account for 43.5 percent of the team’s points and 57.6 percent of the assists.
“They are a team that’s gotten progressively better every year under their coach,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “They are a team that has a road win, which is something we don’t have at this point. Their guard play is solid, and guard play is where we are suspect right now. If you’re a believer that guards win games, we’re going to have issues with this game.”
Another issue for the Miners in the Bahamas was rebounding. UTEP was outboarded by a combined 133-87 in the tournament (-15.3 rebound margin), and opponents took 22 more shots while scoring 38 second chance points.
“The old small rims are on the practice plan today,” Floyd said. “We’ll make sure that every ball comes off the rim and every shot taken is a potential rebound, and emphasize it. That’s what we have to do. We’ve got guys who are capable. We’ve got guys that have to show the continued will in order for us to improve.”
With only one game between now and Dec. 16, Floyd is looking forward to the Miners getting some extended practice time.
“The [Battle 4 Atlantis] experience can be very beneficial if we utilize the next 16 days properly,” he said. “We had an opportunity to be exposed in the Iowa game. We had an opportunity to try to garner some confidence in the Tennessee and the Kansas games. We definitely have to get better, tougher and harder, and more dependable to our teammates both on the offensive and defensive end either by screening offensively or thinking about help or getting back on defense. We intend to utilize this time to try to get better.”
While Floyd acknowledged that the Miners have had backcourt issues, he sees room for improvement.
“I think we’ll get better and I think we should get better,” he said. “Turnovers have not been a big issue out of [Justin] Crosgile and [C.J.] Cooper, which is something to hang your hat on. Making plays for others has been an issue, and getting into a defense has been an issue. Those are areas that we intend to use the next 15 days to improve upon.”
The Miners just completed a stretch of five consecutive games versus teams that played in either the 2013 NCAA Tournament or NIT. The upcoming schedule is considerably lighter. The combined record of UTEP’s seven December opponents (Sacramento State, New Orleans, Northwestern State, Washington State, Montana State, Western Illinois, Denver) was 16-26 through Dec. 4, and no team had a winning record.
The opportunity is there for UTEP to get on a roll.
“We beat a very good Tennessee team, a team that I think will be ranked before the season is over. And we played Kansas tough,” Floyd said. “But at the end of the day we were 1-2. We’ve got eight games out of our next nine [regular season] at home, and our goal is to win every home game and see if we can’t go steal one on the road. And then we’ll look up and see where we are and if we’ve improved.”