Leaders and legends, no not the Big 10, the UTEP men's basketball team.
Veteran leaders are stepping up, and a freshman is beginning a legacy on principles this program was built on, hustle, and hard nosed basketball.
Heading into this weekends parlay of C-USA road games, many in the Nation would of took a road split as a positive moral victory.
Tim Floyd surely wants it all and is not going to settle, doing one of the finest coaching jobs in America over the past couple of weeks, getting his players to respond at a unbelievable level as a team.
UTEP's trio of veterans, C.J. Cooper, John Bohannon, and Julian Washburn are making impacts larger than Cooper's 17 point effort last night, Bohannon's and Washburn defensive efforts over the course of the last six games.
The whole makeup of this team is different, not because of who is not here anymore.
Its a new mentality of the way they approach practice, and just overall focus on the game of basketball that has been essential during this trialing times as a team. Floyd asked for an identity earlier in the season, he is molding his team into a mentally tough group one practice, and film session at a time.
During a recent practice, Bohannon and Washburn were vocal during a simple passing drill to open the session, something you wouldn't have seen earlier in the season.
Depth is an issue there is no doubt, though when your three leaders, and freshman stud play 35 minutes plus of inspired, smart, and heart filled basketball, depth questions should go out the window.
Coach Tim Floyd:
"Our guys are game planning well, We’re getting tremendous, tremendous play out of our freshman Vince Hunter. We’re getting tremendous play out of our leader John Bohannon. Cedrick Lang has been a rock game in and game out on the road. Matt Willms stepped up and played tonight, and it has helped him as a freshman starting versus coming off the bench. Cedrick, to his credit, has deferred knowing that it is helping Matt, which tells you what kind of guy he is. We got good guard play tonight from C.J. Cooper and Julian Washburn."
Bo dominated last weekend's pair of games on offense, this week he understood to win on the road he would have to the dirty work on defense for his team to have a chance.
After a seven block gem of a defensive effort Thursday, he then took away UAB's strength of using their big men to rebound.
UAB's leading rebounders yesterday were their two guards, Jordan Swing, and Rod Rucker, the Blazers came into the game ranked first overall in the nation in rebounding, UTEP was edged 33-32 on the boards.
Says wonders of Bohannon's overall effort as he was at times guarding Jordan Swing out on the perimeter, but limited every UAB big to no more than 4 rebounds.
Some players want to score 30 a night, while Julian Washburn wants to guard, and shut down the guy who scores 30 a night.
The athletic ability, and mentality to do that night in and night out is a special characteristic found in very few star players.
Chad Frazier was a concern for me coming into the UAB game, Washburn shut him down in the first half after picking up two quick fouls, held him to just 13 points on 5 of 12 shooting, but just ask Andrew Wiggins about Julian, he will tell you a good story.
Floyd On Washburn:
"Julian Washburn did a phenomenal job in all defenses – the 1-3-1, the triangle, but more importantly when he was shading Frazier, He had zero field goals at the half and Julian did a tremendous job. We had to play without Julian for nine minutes in the first half with two quick fouls. I thought that was a key part of the game. Jake Flaggert came in and knocked down two threes. It allowed us to leave Julian in there and finish the game."
This of course is nothing new out of Julian, and continues to be a key defensive identity of the Miners this season.
Then there's Vince Hunter, whose 38 combined points against Middle Tennessee, and UAB lead to the best two game road swing for the Miners under Floyd's tenure at UTEP.
Key take away from a Jon Teicher interview with Floyd is that coach noted that when Vince gets in a stance and plays defense, it opens up his offense.
You can say that about any player, but with Vince the proof is in the past three games.
Four steals, a block, and six defensive rebounds, led to 20 points for the Sun City Motor on Thursday, who also notched 18 points last night, with two more steals, adding in seven defensive rebounds, and most importantly he had no turnovers.
That makes it now 48 points for Vince in the past three games, after back-to-back 20 point efforts, with no less than seven boards in those games. #Energy
Every one of us who slammed C.J. Cooper on this forum should buy Coop a beer, or salad, or something...
C.J. buried six treys this weekend, in 79 minutes of work. There is no way UTEP beats UAB last night without his clutch efforts.
It maybe safe to say C.J. is the best clutch offensive player at this point in the season, with the exception of the Charlotte game, C.J. has answered when it is needed the most. His six turnovers against Middle worried me, but the attention to detail these Miners are playing with cut those numbers down to more than half last night.
Of course for the Miners to make a run the aforementioned will have to continue raise their game each night, though its the role players off the Miners bench who also have stepped up to the dish.
Jake Flaggert and Cedrick Lang are the obvious first guys off the bench now, and they have valued their minutes on the defense end of the floor.
With they way these two play on the defensive end, it takes pressure off them to be forced to score, Ced knows he has to get to the line, Jake will continue to improve turning it over, and will eventually be automatic when he is open.
But it's all about Floyd, and what a job has the old ball coach done in the past couple of weeks.
Straight up, the whole staff are coaching balls to wall, and believe in these guys which is building heart, and character as a identity along with some tough defense and rebounding.
Overall we’re just really pleased with the win,We’ve got to go back home and play better than the last time we were home against Charlotte. Hopefully our crowd is going to turn out and realize we’re really under the gun here and we need all the help we can get. I’m hoping for our biggest crowd of the year when we come back.
So whats next?
Some much needed days off before UTSA comes to the Don next Saturday afternoon, and when you win on the road in conference, you can control your own destiny if you take care of business at home.