The UTEP Miners (1-0) face off against the 12th ranked Arizona Wildcats (1-0) in a non-conference matchup Thursday at the McKale Center in Tucson, AZ. Tipoff is slated for 10:00 p.m. ET, and the game will be carried nationally by Fox Sports.
The Miners come into the contest off a 69-49 victory over Oral Roberts. They started slow in that contest, only holding a 3 point lead at the half. But, they turned up the defensive intensity in the second half, used a 26-5 run to blow the game open, and raced away with the victory.
The Wildcats enter the contest off an 82-73 season opening victory over the Charleston Southern Buccaneers. The Bucs were able to keep the game fairly close throughout, and were down only 2 at multiple points in the second half, and by as little as 5 with under 5 minutes to play. However, the Wildcats were able to open up the lead in the closing minutes to secure the victory.
Arizona and UTEP have quite the history that dates back to the days of the Old WAC. The two teams have faced each other 89 times over the years, with the Wildcats holding a 59-30 all time advantage in the series. They also an 35-8 edge in games played in Tucson.
The two teams last met in December of 1995 in Tucson, a 90-70 win for Arizona. The Miners last win in Tucson came during the first round of the 1987 NCAA Tournament, when they dropped the Wildcats 98-91 in overtime.
The Wildcats return three starters from a year ago, but are led by Xavier transfer Mark Lyons. The senior guard had 17 points and 6 assists in their season opener. Senior forward Solomon Hill is also a force. He had 14 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists in that opener.
Beyond those two, are three other players who scored in double figures against Charleston Southern. Sophomore guard Nick Johnson put up 12 points, 3 rebounds, and 6 assists. Freshman forward Brandon Ashley, ranked 16th in ESPN's top 100 HS players last year, put up 12 points, and 8 rebounds, and junior guard Jordin Mayes had 10 points, and 2 assists.
The Wildcats also boast the number three recruiting class in the country that includes the aforementioned Ashley, as well as 7'0 Kaleb Tarczewski (4th in 2012 class), power forward Grant Jerrett (9th), and shooting guard Gabe York (65th). The last member of the class is forward Matt Korcheck, who actually signed to play with the Miners a few years back, but wound up at Cochise JC after Tim Floyd took over. He is redshirting.
UTEP is led by junior center John Bohannon, sophomore guard/forward Julian Washburn, and senior point guard Jacques Streeter. In the opener, Bohannon led the way with 17 points, and 4 rebounds. Washburn finished with 11 points, and 3 rebounds, and Streeter had 7 points, 4 rebounds, and 7 assists.
Beyond those three, are guys like sophomore forward Cedrick Lang, sophomore guard/forward Jalen Raglend, sophomore guard C.J. Cooper, and senior forward Malcom Moore. Raglend started in the opener, finishing with 10 points on 5 of 9 shooting. Lang wasn't a huge impact on the offensive end, but pulled down 6 rebounds, and Cooper and Moore played sparingly, but both should see expanded roles as the season progresses.
The Miners also bring in a talented recruiting class that features Parade All-American Twymond Howard and highly touted forward Chris Washburn Jr. Howard, a guard/forward out of Mississippi, didn't see a ton of minutes in the opener, but should have more of an impact in the near future.
Chris Washburn may end up being the 'x factor' for this team. In the opener, he finished with 14 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, and a block in only 16 minutes of action. He could be a huge help off the bench, or may even find himself in the starting lineup at some point this year.
There's no question that this will be a huge test for the Miners. They are certainly talented enough to make a game of this, and possibly even come away with an upset. On the other hand, they're young enough to struggle on the road in a big time environment.
No matter what the outcome of the game is though, this is exactly what Coach Floyd and his staff wanted for this team. While Floyd certainly expects his players to compete with high intensity for 40 minutes, its the experience, more than the result that he'll be concerned with.
That experience will pay dividends in the long run, especially once the conference slate approaches. Still though, it's early November, and it's college basketball, where anything can happen. Should be an interesting one at the McKale Center.