Miners Meet Rams In Sun Bowl Opener


POSTED: Tuesday, December 27, 2011 - 5:42pm

UPDATED: Wednesday, December 28, 2011 - 5:32pm

UTEP (6-6) faces old Western Athletic Conference rival Colorado State (7-4) in the 50th edition of the Sun Bowl Invitational on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the Don Haskins Center. The nightcap pits Arkansas-Pine Bluff (1-9) versus Jacksonville State (4-8) at 9. The consolation game will be played on Thursday at 5 p.m., followed by the championship at 7.

UTEP has posted an all-time record of 76-22 in the Sun Bowl Invitational, which didn’t have a championship game a year ago. The Miners have won titles on 28 occasions, most recently in 2009, and played in the championship game 40 times. The event originated in 1961 as the Sun Carnival Basketball Tournament and took Don Haskins’ name in 2009.

The Miners are starting fresh this season with nine newcomers, including a Division I transfer (junior guard Jacques Streeter) and seven freshmen. UTEP returns just three letterwinners and one starter (senior forward Gabriel McCulley) from last year’s unit that finished 25-10 overall and tied for second place in Conference USA with an 11-5 mark. The Miners lost 82.5 percent of their scoring and 70.6 percent of their rebounding production from the 2010-11 squad, which had eight seniors.

The Rams haven’t played since Dec. 22, when they won at Northern Colorado, 92-78, to climb to 7-4 on the year. Colorado State will be facing its third Conference USA opponent after beating SMU (75-56) in the Dick’s Sporting Goods NIT Season Tip-Off in Palo Alto, Calif. on Nov. 14, and losing to Southern Miss (79-58) at home on Nov. 19.

Winners of 19 games a year ago, the Rams return two starters and seven letterwinners from a squad that lost to Fairfield, 62-60, in the first round of the 2011 NIT. Colorado State is led by junior guard Wes Eikmeier (17.3 ppg), junior guard Dorian Green (14.2 ppg) and sophomore forward Greg Smith (11.5 ppg). Sophomore forward Pierce Hornung tops the club in rebounding with a 6.8 average.

Colorado State was second in the nation in three-point field goal percentage through the games of Dec. 18. The Rams are firing at a 46.2 percent clip from outside this season led by Green (27-for-46, 58.7 percent).

UTEP and Colorado State have met 70 times previously, with the Miners winning 46 times. However, Wednesday’s game marks the first matchup between the long-time rivals since Feb. 5, 1998, when coach Don Haskins’ Miners lost to the Rams in El Paso, 64-58.

UTEP is 27-6 all-time versus Colorado State in El Paso. The Rams, however, have won back-to-back games in the Haskins Center (during the 1995-96 & 1997-98 seasons) after losing on 16 of their previous 17 trips to El Paso.

UTEP’s Tim Floyd will be coaching against Colorado State for the first time on Wednesday.
The Miners are 7-11 against former WAC foes in the Mountain West Conference since the league’s split following the 1998-99 season.

Bryan Christiansen scored 15 points, and Colorado State overcame a nightmarish performance at the foul line (3-for-16) to hand UTEP a 64-58 defeat on Feb. 5, 1998 at the Haskins Center. The Miners fell behind by as many as 14 points (50-36) with 14:05 remaining in the game, and a late rally came up short. Christiansen also led the Rams with six rebounds and five assists. Rico Nelson (16 points) and B.J. Wade (15) both connected on three three-point field goals to lead UTEP’s charge. Sharif Fajardo fell two rebounds shy of a double-double with 14 points and eight boards for the Miners.

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