Once again, as they did Thursday against Marshall, UTEP came out with guns blazing as Randy Culpepper scored the first 7 points in Friday's semifinal game against Tulsa. The sailing in this one though, would be nowhere near as smooth as it was a day earlier. The Golden Hurricane quickly gathered their composure, and after guard Justin Hurtt's 3 minute, 11 point outburst, they found themselves in the lead at 18-16. The two teams traded blows for the remainder of the half, and Tulsa took the lead into the locker room 29-28.
The second half started the same as the first half had ended. The Miners quickly took the lead on a Christian Polk three, but two straight buckets from Just Hurtt would give it right back to Tulsa. The Hurricane maintained that lead for the first four minutes of the final twenty, but following the tv timeout a 15-2 run gave the Miners a 51-42 lead with just over nine minutes to play. The Miners didn't allow Tulsa to come any closer than seven points the rest of the way, and took the game by the final score of 66-54.
The name of the game on this afternoon was efficiency. The Miners didn't put up many shots, but they sure did take advantage of the opportunities they had. UTEP went 23-41 from the field for a solid 56.1%, including 5-9 from distance. In comparison, Tulsa finished at 21-54 for a mediocre 38.9%, to go along with 5-18 on threes.
Randy Culpepper was a bit streaky, but finished the game like his usual self with a solid, game high 26 point performance to lead the way for the Miners. Christian Polk had a nice shooting night, going 5-8 from the field, and 3-4 from three point land for 13 points. Those two were the only Miners to score in double figures, but Julyan Stone also made sure to make his presence known, finishing with 9 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists. Justin Hurtt had 17 to lead Tulsa, and forward Joe Richard finished with 11.
Its now on to the championship game for the Miners, to take on a young, but talented Memphis squad who demolished East Carolina 76-56 in Conference USA's second semifinal. Attendance, again, was absolutely subpar, and we just have to do a better job putting people in the seats tomorrow than we have done the last few days. This is the biggest game that El Paso has seen in a while, and it would just be a shame if we didn't sell the place out, and send these great seniors off in style. Tipoff for tomorrow's championship game is slated for 9:35 a.m. MST, and the game will be nationally televised on CBS.