The UTEP Miners (5-5) take on the Kansas St. Wildcats (8-1) in the semifinals of the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic. UTEP knocked off Clemson 61-48 in the opening round of the tournament, while K State took care of Southern Illinois 83-58. Both teams have won three straight games, and the Miners will be looking to win four in a row for the first time this season.
The two teams have met three times previously, with the Kansas St. taking two of three. The most recent contest, on December 17th 1977, was a 67-63 upset win for the Miners over the 19th ranked Wildcats in the Sun Carnival tournament in El Paso. UTEP coach Tim Floyd holds a 5-4 all time record versus Kansas St., and an 0-1 record versus K State coach Frank Martin.
The Wildcats boast four players that average double figure points. Senior F Jamar Samuels leads the way for the Wildcats with 12.4 points per game, and 6.3 rebounds. Freshman F Thomas Gibson is averaging 12 points and 7.3 rebounds, and junior G Rodney McGruder and sophomore G Will Spradling both average better than 11 points per contest.
The Miners come into the contest led by both senior F Gabe McCulley, and sophomore G Mike Perez. McCulley is undoubtedly the glue of this team, averaging 11.7 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.7 steals, and a block per game. Perez is turning into the player that he was expected to be. He is coming off a career high 25 points, and he is now averaging better than 12 on the season.
Injuries are now beginning to take a great toll on the Miners. Earlier in the week, it was learned that junior F Malcolm Moore tore his ACL and will be out for the season. Also, 6'10 freshman C Hooper Vint, who was battling back issues, will opt for surgery and miss the remainder of the season. Last, but certainly not least, talented freshman G Julian Washburn suffered a sprained AC joint (shoulder) against Clemson, and is officially listed as questionable (UTEP athletics) for today's game.
Kansas St. will be a great challenge for this young Miner team. They have talent, experience, size, they play fast paced, and they are very well coached. To be honest, they are easily the better team...on paper that is. Even through the struggles of youth and injury, this Miner team has continued to improve and impress. I only expect more of the same today. The Miners may not beat Kansas St. today, but much like other games this season, I expect them to play smart, tough, and competitive basketball. Everything else will take care of itself. Go Miners!!