UTEP looks for road win tonight at Rice

UTEP looks for road win tonight at Rice
Wednesday, February 1, 2012 - 11:05am

UTEP (10-11, 3-4 C-USA) wraps up a three-game Conference USA road swing on Wednesday at Rice (12-10, 3-4 C-USA). The Miners are playing their second game in the city of Houston in five days after dropping an 81-76 overtime decision at Houston on Saturday. Wednesday’s game marks the midway point of the Conference USA schedule for both the Miners and the Owls. UTEP will be home for five of its final eight league games and will open a three-game homestand versus UAB on Saturday.

UTEP (0-7 on the road) is still looking for its first road win of the 2011-12 season. The Miners were one of 33 Division I schools with zero road victories through the games of Jan. 29. UTEP was one of three schools that were undefeated at home in conference play and winless on the road, along with Arkansas (3-0 home/0-3 away in SEC) and North Dakota (2-0 home/0-1 away in Great West). The Miners are 3-0 in C-USA home games and 0-4 in C-USA road games this season.

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 Owls snapped a three-game losing skid with an 88-74 win over Tulane on Saturday in Houston. Freshman forward Ahmad Ibrahim (23 points) and senior guard Connor Frizzelle (22) combined for 55 points for Rice, which improved to 1-3 at home in C-USA games and 8-5 at Tudor Fieldhouse this season.

Rice lost its first two C-USA home games to Marshall (63-61) and UAB (61-60 in overtime) by a combined three points before getting routed by Tulsa, 70-46, on Jan. 21. The Owls’ signature victory came at Texas A&M, 65-58, on Dec. 22 to snap the Aggies’ 67-game home non-conference winning streak.

Junior forward Arsalan Kazemi is averaging 13.1 points and 11.3 rebounds. Junior guard Tamir Jackson averages 11.4 ppg and Frizzelle 9.7 ppg. Massive 7-2, 265-pound Omar Oraby is shooting 67 percent from the field while averaging 6.0 ppg and 3.7 rpg, but has made his presence felt even more in C-USA action with 8.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg and 2.0 bpg.

The Owls are second in C-USA in steals (8.0 avg.) and third in field goal percentage defense (.405) & assists (14.2 avg.). Kazemi is the league leader in rebounding, field goal percentage (.622) and steals (2.1 avg.). He is second nationally in double-doubles (14) behind Siena’s O.D. Anosike (17), and ranks sixth in rebounding.

The Miners lead the series 14-9 and have won 10 of the last 12 meetings between the schools. For the second straight year, and the second time since joining C-USA in 2005, UTEP and Rice will face one another twice in league play.

The Owls have won six of the previous 10 matchups between the schools in Houston, but the Miners are 2-0 versus Rice at Tudor Fieldhouse (formerly Autry Court) with a 67-58 victory during the 2008-09 season and a 59-53 win a year ago.

UTEP’s Tim Floyd will be coaching against Rice’s Ben Braun for the 10th time on Wednesday. Floyd is 6-3 against Braun-led squads, with six of the previous matchups taking place when Floyd was at USC and Braun was at Cal. Another transpired during the 1991-92 season when Floyd was at New Orleans and Braun was coaching at Eastern Michigan.

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