Saturday night, UTEP hosts Houston in C-USA home opener


POSTED: Friday, January 6, 2012 - 2:32pm

UPDATED: Friday, January 6, 2012 - 6:37pm

The UTEP Miners (7-8, 0-1) play their first C-USA home game of the season against Houston (9-5, 1-0) on Saturday at 7 p.m. MT. UTEP is coming off a 76-60 loss at Marshall on Wednesday, while the Cougars topped Tulsa at home in overtime, 70-69. Houston comes to El Paso riding a five-game winning streak since a 79-74 loss to Oklahoma in the All-College Classic on Dec. 17.

The Miners have won four of their last five games in the Haskins Center and are 5-3 at home this season. Houston is playing just its second true road game of the season; the Cougars are 0-1 on enemy floors with an 81-78 loss at Texas State on Dec. 6.

UTEP is 39-8 in C-USA home games since joining the league for the 2005-06 season (7-0 in 2006, 5-3 in 2007, 7-1 in 2008, 5-3 in 2009, 8-0 in 2010, 7-1 in 2011). The Miners have won 17 of their last 18 C-USA home games dating back to the 2008-09 campaign.

UTEP is 5-1 in C-USA home openers (beat East Carolina 58-45 in 2006, beat UAB 76-63 in 2007, beat SMU 79-66 in 2008, lost to Houston 94-86 in 2009, beat SMU 49-45 in 2010, beat Tulsa 69-59 in 2011).  The Miners are 0-1 in conference play for the first time since the 2003-04 season and are trying to avoid their first 0-2 start since 2001-02.

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 Cougars lead C-USA in scoring, averaging 79.4 points per game. Houston is also first in field goal percentage (.487) and three-point field goal percentage (.387), and second in free throw percentage (.734) and blocked shots (6.4 avg.).

UH has four players with double figure scoring averages -- junior forward Jonathon Simmons (15.9 ppg), sophomore forward Alandise Harris (14.0 ppg), freshman guard Joseph Young (11.2 ppg) and freshman forward TaShawn Thomas (10.6 ppg). Thomas is averaging a near double-double with 8.5 rebounds per outing and has also blocked a team-leading 39 shots on the year.

Senior guard Darian Thibodeaux leads C-USA in assist/turnover ratio (2.8), and junior forward Kirk Van Slyke is first in free throw percentage (.931). Thomas and Simmons rank 2-3 in the league in field goal percentage (.583 and .558 respectively).

UTEP leads the series 12-8. The Miners have won nine of the 10 games played between the state rivals in El Paso.  Last year UTEP swept the regular season series from the Cougars for the first time since joining C-USA. UTEP and Houston have played 15 games as members of the league, including three in the league’s postseason tournament. Thirteen of the 15 games have been determined by eight points or fewer.  UTEP Coach Tim Floyd is 2-0 versus Houston and 4-1 when coaching against Houston’s James Dickey.

Randy Culpepper snapped out of a shoot- ing slump by pouring in 33 points, going 12- for-12 from the line, as UTEP beat Houston, 76-64, on Feb. 19, 2011 at the Haskins Center.  Culpepper, who had eclipsed 20 points just once in his previous seven games, had an efficient offensive night, hitting 9-of-13 shots and 3-of-5 three pointers.

The Cougars stayed within striking dis- tance up until the final five minutes. The Miners scored 14 of the game’s final 21 points after Maurice McNeil’s layup pulled the visitors to within five points (62-57) with 5:53 remaining. UTEP did not trail after scoring the game’s first four points.

The Miners appeared sluggish early, but closed the first half with a mini 9-4 run to take a 36-28 lead into the locker room. UTEP opened a 13-point lead (48-35) in the first five minutes of the second half before the Cougars battled back. But they could never get closer than five points.

Claude Britten scored 14 points for the Miners. Jeremy Williams collected nine points and Julyan Stone had another solid all-around game with four points, nine rebounds and seven assists. He also registered the 200th steal of his career.

The Miners went 24-for-26 at the line, making their first 12 attempts and their last 12 sandwiched around a couple of misses by Gabriel McCulley.  Alandise Harris led Houston with 18 points.

UH Head Coach James Dickey is the brother of current Auburn assistant Randall Dickey, who was a member of the Miner staff from 2004-10 working under both Doc Sadler and Tony Barbee. The Cougars’ Associate Head Coach Alvin Brooks was a part of Billy Gillispie’s UTEP staff during the 2003-04 season.

UTEP sophomore center John Bohannon played against Houston freshman guard Joseph Young in the 2010 Texas 4A state title game. Bohannon’s Lancaster squad lost to Young’s Yates team, 92-73, in Austin. Bohannon had 23 points and 12 rebounds in the game, and Young scored 24 points.

Dennis Tinnon had a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds, and Marshall whipped UTEP on the boards in a 76-60 win on Wednesday in Huntington, W. Va.  The Herd posted its first victory over the Miners in eight attempts since joining Conference USA. UTEP had its string of seven straight wins in conference openers snapped.  With 10:27 to go in the first half, the Miners led 18-10 and were outrebounding the Herd 7-3. But Marshall closed the half with a 29-16 run, securing 12 of the game’s 13 rebounds during that stretch.

Shaquille Johnson keyed the spurt by scoring 10 of his 12 points during a span of 3:09 from the 7:01 mark to 3:52. Reserve Nigel Spikes was also a big contributor in the first half, scoring four of his eight points in the final three minutes -- including a tip dunk at the buzzer that sent the Herd to the locker room with a 39-34 lead.
The Miners were unable to mount a rally after falling behind 53-38 with 13:14 to play on Dago Pena’s second straight three pointer. That capped an 11-2 run.

The Herd outrebounded the Miners 42-23 and enjoyed an 18-8 edge in second chance points.  Julian Washburn scored 15 points for the Miners, Jacques Streeter 12 and John Bohannon 11. UTEP shot 66.7 percent in the first half, then made just 8-of-29 shots over the final 20 minutes while being outscored 37-26.

Cedrick Lang and Gabriel McCulley both fouled out after playing 18 and 23 minutes respectively, and Bohannon didn’t play the final 8:25 after going to the bench with four fouls.

For the second year in a row, UTEP is honoring past great players at halftime of this season’s games. On Saturday, the Miners will retire the #10 worn by Tim Hardaway from 1985-89.

Hardaway led the Miners to 101 victories and four NCAA Tournament appearances. A three-time All-Western Athletic Conference honoree, he was chosen the league’s player of the year as a senior after averaging 22 points and 5.4 assists per game. He was also recipient of the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award, given to the best college player six feet tall or under, in 1989.

Hardaway is the Miners’ all-time leader for steals (262), and ranks second in assists (563) and fifth in scoring (1,586 points). Hardaway played 13 seasons in the NBA with Golden State, Miami, Dallas, Denver and Indiana, and was a five-time All-Star.

Effective Saturday, freshman swingman Julian Washburn will switch from wearing #10 to #4. The Miners have also retired #14 (Nate Archibald) and #45 (Jim Barnes).

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