LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 14: Head coach Tim Floyd of the UTEP Miners talks to his players on the bench during their game against the UNLV Rebels at the Thomas & Mack Center December 14, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada. UNLV won 65-54. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
First off let me say that this is not the gameday thread. There will be another thread, like yesterday's, for the comments throughout the day. Feel free to comment of course, but this is not the game thread. Moving on. Second, let me say I am SO glad the Miners were able to fight back for the victory against Houston. At times it was ugly, extremely ugly, but I'll take the win however we can get it.
These young Miners have shown their resiliency on multiple occasions this year coming back from deficits to win games, most recently against Southern Miss (down 16 in 2nd half) and tonight against Houston (down 8 with under 9 to play). While its great to see them fight and never give up, its disappointing to see the play that puts them in spots that they probably shouldn't be in.
Granted, they're an extremely young team, and regardless of now having a full season under their belts you just have to take the good with the bad. The tough thing is we now have to take on a Memphis team that is not only the undisputed best team in conference; they're mad, they're determined, and they're looking for revenge. I mean we did just beat them on this same floor only weeks ago. They're gonna do all they can to not let that happen again.
One thing is for sure. If the Miners want to have a chance of staying alive another day, they'll have to play much better than they did tonight. While the stats don't really show it, we had some extremely untimely mistakes, made some very poor decisions, missed free throws we shouldn't have, and were just completely dominated by another athletic big man (Alandise Harris - 25 points, 12 rebounds).
If you all remember, as I'm sure you do, Memphis' Tarik Black also went to town on the Miners, putting up 26 points and 10 rebounds back on February 18th. The good news that day was that Julian Washburn and co. were able to hold Will Barton in check (9 points). I don't know if we can expect the same tomorrow.
Don't get me wrong. Wash is an amazing talent and a shut down defender, but Will Barton is an athlete just the same, and will likely get his own in round two. Not saying he'll go off, but I'd expect more than 9. If we are still unable to find an answer to the problem that is Tarik Black, and Will Barton is also having a good day, the Miners might be in some deep water.
Also, the Miners have made it a tendency to start slow and work their way back into games. That won't fly against Memphis. The Tigers just play too fast, and I'm sure they've been itching for a second crack at the Miners since the moment Barton's 3 clanked of the rim a few weeks ago. That day the Miners fell behind 9-0 to start the game, and were fortunate Memphis didn't run away with it. Be assured that they won't take their foot off the gas if given the opportunity.
To keep that from happening, we need solid play from every person that sees the floor. Gabe McCulley, our lone senior and native Memphian, needs to do exactly what he did tonight, and then some. John Bohannon need to be smarter with the ball, and more efficient at the bucket. PLEASE JUST DUNK IT! Mike Perez needs to continue to play aggressive and confident, as he did tonight. He is our purest scorer/shooter, and we need him to be relevant.
Julian Washburn, obviously, needs to continue to play his shutdown defense, as well as continue to be the offensive threat that he is. Jacques Streeter needs to be the general of this team, and has to finish at the rim on a consistent basis. Cedrick Land needs to give those quality minutes as he's done all year, and guys like Cooper, Campbell, Ragland, and whoever else sees the floor need to be ready to step up to the plate when called upon.
Here's the point. The Miners CAN go into the FedEx Forum tomorrow and beat the Memphis Tigers. But to beat them again, on their home floor, they'll need play probably better than they have all season. They'll need to throw the first blows, weather any storms, play smart fundamental basketball, and figure out a way to contain two monster players. I have no doubt that they can, its just a matter of will. Whatever the outcome of tomorrow's game, I'm proud of these guys for everything they've shown. That said, I hope we go in and whoop some Tiger...well you know. Go Miners!