The UTEP Miners (3-4) will take on the 20th Ranked UNLV Running Rebels (8-1) tonight at the Don Haskins Center. Tipoff is slated for 6:00 pm MT.
This will be the 13th overall meeting between the two schools. UNLV leads the all time series 9-3. The last time both teams faced each other was December 14th last year in Las Vegas as the Running Rebels sneaked past the Miners with some big shots late on route to a 65-54 victory.
UTEP comes into the game on a eight day break, while UNLV is fresh off a 91-44 victory Thursday night vs. Division 3 La Verne. UTEP is 3-0 at home this season and looks to extend that to 4-0 for the first time since the 2009-2010 season. This will be the third game in a seven game home stand (including sun bowl tournament games).
It is no surprise that the Running Rebels have some skill on their team. UNLV is lead by a very talented Freshman forward in Anthony Bennett (6-8 240 lbs). During his first nine games, Bennett is averaging 20.3 points and 9 rebounds a game. Senior Anthony Marshall (6-3 200 lbs) was the Miners achilles heel last season making most of those big shots in Las Vegas and he continues his steady play this season. Marshall averages 10.7 points with 5.3 assists a game.
In the game against La Verne, the Running Rebels played very sloppy in the first half with poor shot selection and poor defense as well. La Verne was only down 17 at the half, which no one expected. It wasn't until the second half that UNLV decided to start playing and eventually blew out La Verne by 47 points. Anthony Bennett had his best game of the season statistically on Thursday scoring 27 points and pulling in 14 rebounds. Anthony Marshall threw in 9 points and 2 assists as well for the Running Rebels.
The Running Rebels are 17th in the nation in points per game (80.8), 8th in rebounds per game (43.6) and 6th in assists per game (18.1). While these are some impressive numbers I cannot help but feel that they are padded by playing the easiest part of their schedule. While UNLV is 8-1, their toughest tests were against Oregon, Iowa State and California. Other than that, the Running Rebels opponents up until now have been rather weak and that says a lot for a team that has the 31st toughest schedule (Miners have 33rd).
The Miners are coming off a 64-60 win on December 8th vs. Idaho. We saw the emergence of Sophomore Jalen Ragland (6-6 175 lbs) that game as he dropped 17 points in a performance that made it seem like he was being possessed. Ragland had hot hand as he went 3 for 7 from downtown as those shots provided the spark for the Miners against a very scrappy Idaho team. Junior John Bohannon (6-10 210 lbs) came off the bench with 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Miners. Sophomore Julian Washburn (6-7 205 lbs) also kept his hot hand going with 16 points against the Vandals.
The game against Idaho proved to be a test for the Miners, facing off against some big bodies and tough players. The Miners saw an 18 point lead cut down to 3 in only 7 minutes. This showed us two things: 1. The Miners know how to take advantage of their home court/crowd by making big plays and causing opponents to play sloppy. 2. The Miners know how to hold leads but can easily blow them allowing other teams to come back into the game.
The Miners still continue to struggle scoring points and pulling in rebounds. UTEP is 335th in the nation averaging 56.7 points and 346th with 25.6 rebounds per game. It is no secret that the Miners need some fire power coming into this game and it seems that those prayers might be answered. The Miners should see Senior guard Konner Tucker (6-4 185 lbs) and Sophomore guard McKenzie Moore (6-6 190 lbs) in uniform tonight. Tucker is coming off a broken hand suffered in pre season exhibition game while Moore was waiting for his eligibility to finally kick in.
Points- Julian Washburn (12.0), John Bohannon (11.6), Chris Washburn (7.6)
Rebounds- John Bohannon (5.4), Cedrick Lang (4.1), Chris Washburn (3.9)
UNLV Running Rebels:
Points- Anthony Bennett (20.3), Anthony Marshall (10.8), Katin Reinhardt (9.9)
Rebounds- Anthony Bennett (8.9), Quintrell Thomas (5.4), Anthony Marshall (4.3)
Assists- Anthony Marshall (5.3), Katin Reinhardt (3.1), Daquan Cook (3.0)
Final thoughts: This by far will be the toughest game to date for the Miners and while it might not seem like it, I feel that the Miners have a shot to upset UNLV at home. In order for that to happen we must have solid play from the Washburn brothers and Bohannon. The Miners must get to the free throw line and prevent UNLV from getting to the line. UNLV lives from the line and has made more free throws (185) than opponents have attempted (175). Hopefully Tim Floyd showed his young team the tape of the Cal vs. UNLV game for some pointers on how to keep the game close and possibly win. UTEP simply needs to make the Running Rebels play below their scoring average and grow up quick if they want the win tonight. If the Running Rebels put up 70 plus points I don't see a victory happening for the Miners tonight.
Prediction: UNLV 73, Miners 62