Like so many El Pasoans, I grew up on UTEP basketball. I'll never forget my dad yelling "Mark McCall makes the call!" after this play. I remember watching in anguish, even when the Bear couldn't, as Eddie Rivera and company held off Kansas in 1992. Saturday's showdown against #21 UTEP and UAB may not have had the stakes of those two games, but the final play will live on in Miner lore for a very, long time nonetheless.
Six seconds to go. Fifty-Fifty. Miner ball. Then, it happened. The Six Second Slam.
It may not have been pretty, but the UTEP Miners rallied to beat UAB in front of a sell-out crowd at The Don. The Blazers appeared to have control of the game, leading by 11 with under twelve minutes to go, but the Miners stormed back and won on an instant classic play that will not soon be forgotten. After UAB's Aaron Johnson tied the game at fifty, Julyan Stone sprinted down the right baseline, and tossed a perfect pass to a streaking Derrick Caracter who slammed it home with a single second to go. Chaos ensued, as UAB Coach Mike Davis demanded a technical foul be called on UTEP after some Miner players left the bench in excitement. The scene was absolutely surreal.
Not-So-Hot Shots: Both teams struggled immensely from the field. UTEP shot under 38%, which amazingly was better than UAB's meager 36%. Randy Culpepper had more turnovers than field goals (4 to 3) including a key turnover with 1:31 remaining and the game tied at 48. Jeremy Williams was 1/6 and finished with three points.
- The Strong Arm: On a night where baskets were hard to come by, Myron Strong stepped up in a major way. In 22 minutes of action, Strong put up 15 points on 6/8 shooting. He also had four steals and three rebounds. Remember, before the Marshall game, we wondered whether Myron's minutes would continue to climb to Julyan's detriment. Credit Tony Barbee for managing to get the most out of Julyan's incredibly unselfish ball distribution and Myron's scoring ability by knowing when to go with one, the other, or both.
- Face on a Milk Carton? Some may be wondering what happened to Arnett Moultrie's offensive game, but I don't see any reason to worry. Yes, I realize he only had two points, but don't look past the fact that he only took four shots. The offense, right now, is at its best when it's run through Derrick in the post. Arnett simply isn't getting any good looks through the offense right now. Arnett can be a great "glue guy" when he stay's committed to that role. Instead of judging his performance on Saturday solely on points, consider that he gave the Miners 30 hard minutes and came away with 8 rebounds and 3 blocks. He led UTEP in both of those categories.
- What Took So Long?: Against Marshall, Derrick Caracter dominated the last five minutes of the game. Against UAB, he dominated the last 2:30. Derrick scored the Miners last six points, including two free throws, and obviously the final dunk with a second remaining. Obviously, a clutch play can cover up just about anything, but a close examination of Derrick's game shows how much he struggled. For the second straight game, he was plagued by foul trouble. He had two fouls in the games first five minutes. He only played twenty-two minutes against UAB. Also, he has been prone to commit lots of turnovers. He had five of UTEP's sixteen in the game.
The Charity Stripe? UTEP continues to struggle from the free throw line. Who else was surprised that Derrick made them both in the clutch? The Miners were just 6/13 (46.2%) from the line. It's going to be incredibly difficult to keep winning in March at UTEP's average (67%), but it will be near-impossible to do it if the Miners shoot that way again.
- NCAA Lock?: In my mind, UTEP's win against UAB locked up an at-large birth for the NCAA Tournament. The Miners added another RPI Top 50 win to their resume and catapulted their own RPI up to #41. UTEP's season sweep of Memphis and UAB puts them ahead of both in the NCAA pecking order should there be a titanic upset in the league tourney (say if Tulsa somehow knocks UTEP off and wins it). Right now, if you're a Memphis or UAB, you have to assume that the only way you are going to the Dance is if you win the league tournament.