There were a few defining moments, of both the positive and negative effect that occurred since before the start of the 2013-14 UTEP men’s basketball season.
But one season changing moment truly defined the meaning of overcoming adversity.
As we all know, originally two were suspended before the start of the Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational on December 28th, leaving a whole fan base with 1001 questions, even as UTEP banded together to win the tourney.
Once we found out the reasoning behind, and the revelation that now three were off the team, things seemed to be spiraling down towards another sub-par, and even under .500 season, though it was far from the case thanks to the heart and improvement of the remaining Miners.
After dropping the conference opener in a hard fought heartbreaker to Charlotte, this team came together to win eight straight games, nothing none of us saw coming.
One of the most interesting things about that streak, UTEP won four of those eight on the road; winning on the road had been a challenge under Tim Floyd, especially in conference play.
UTEP seemed to touch every school record for streaks during that amazing eight win ride
They had won five straight conference games by more than 10 points, which hadn’t been done since 1957, while ending Middle Tennessee’s 25 game conference home winning streak.
Defense and rebounding was the main identity formed during the run, after a 5-5 start showed this team had plenty to figure out, and no identity.
The Miners allowed only 58.1 points a game during the streak, and held their opponents to a 36 percent mark from the field. The Miners had blocked 31 shots compared to the 16 their opponents swatted away also during those eight games.
One of the most impressive feats of the streak was holding back-to-back opponents under 50 points, both coming on the road. Also impressive is that four of the eight leading scorers UTEP faced were held under their double digit average (Kareem Canty, Shawn Jones, Austin Ramljak, and Aaron Bacote), and were held to a combined 7/32 from the field in those four games.
And for a tall team who was getting crushed on the boards early in the non-conference slate, UTEP found their mettle with a +5.2 rebounding margin during that run as well, lead by senior John Bohannon.
Players also stepped up to dynamic roles, showing tremendous heart, and the ability to compensate for the better of the team. UTEP when out if its realm of not being able to score when they put up 89 points in a win against La. Tech, going 5/11 from deep, and getting to the free throw line 45 times.
Vince Hunter had shown flashes that he could be a main offensive option in the early non-conference schedule, furthermore proving that point during the streak as well.
The Conference USA Freshman of The Year averaged 15.6 points and 7.3 rebounds, and also shot 58 percent from the field in those wins, single handedly giving UTEP energy with his rebounding, while improving his perimeter defense one possession at a time.
During this stretch Hunter really blossomed into something special, his best basketball has yet to come to him, but this stretch is what really got him going this year. Vince struggled with foul trouble early, but figured out his defense can lead to offense if he got down in a stance. Not only has his on the floor game improved, but his basketball IQ has grown by leaps and bounds thanks to the team unity that was solidified.
Team communication on both ends of the floor also improved, leaders like Bohannon, and Washburn became more positively verbal, spreading knowledge of the system during practices and games, holding everyone accountable, allowing everyone to be coachable in the process.
We also found out that as C.J. Cooper goes, so does the outcome of the game for the most part.
Also during the special span, both he Julian Washburn were on a tear from behind the three point line.
Both had 35 of the team’s 40 made three pointers, while manning the guard, and main ball handling duties.
Washburn who has trouble with turnovers, had true point guard like numbers, handing out 27 assists with only 11 turnovers during the run.
The duo also went a combined 45/52 from the free throw line, acting as the only Miner guards.
The win streak not only showed the potential of this team going forward, but defined exactly what Tim Floyd wants to build, a tough defensive smothering monster, that has patience on offense to get the shot they want, or bully their way to the free throw if needed.
Floyd also showed at points he wants to get out and run the break which the defense sometimes jump starts lead by their elite ability to effect shots, something the new guards coming in next year have to like, and have probably already been pitched on.
UTEP will now get ready to challenge a pretty wide open CBI bracket, that in all honesty, UTEP should be able to at least reach the finals.
Getting back to the principles of that eight game win streak should not be hard, those identities are still there, the execution level has to be raised back to that standard for any chance at a CBI title.