The UTEP Miners (5-5) will take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers (8-3) in the Championship game of the Sun Bowl Invitational tonight at the Don Haskins Center. Tipoff is slated for 7:00 pm MT. The consolation game will be between Central Michigan and UAPB which takes place tonight at 5:00 pm MT.
UTEP is playing their fourth and final game this week. The Miners will not have another game until December 28th when they face Cameron (exhibition). UTEP is coming off a 22 point victory over UAPB. Nebraska is also coming off a victory defeating Central Michigan 89 to 75. Both games showed us that the school who will win this tournament will be the one who play solid defense the entire game.
Nebraska is coming off a 14 point victory against a rather scrappy Central Michigan team. Early on, fans might have thought the game was going to be over thanks to Junior guard Ray Gallegos' (6-2 181 lbs) 11 points in the opening 4 minutes of the game. Another reason would be the size of their Senior center Andre Almeida (6-11 314 lbs). While he is a big guy, he played well below his averages scoring only 3 points (avg 8.0) and had 0 rebounds (avg 4.7)
Senior guard Dylan Talley (6'5 216 lbs) started the game for Nebraska and ended up being their leading scorer with 21 points and 7 rebounds. Another starter, Senior forward Brandon Ubel (6'10 234 lbs) was in double figures for the Cornhuskers with 14 points and 3 rebounds. The surprise of the night was Sophomore guard David Rivers (6'7 191 lbs) dropping 21 points and pulling down 7 boards for Nebraska. Rivers had a career night against Central Michigan. Through the previous 10 games, Rivers only averaged 3.8 points and 3.1 rebounds per game.
Nebraska comes into this game against the Miners tonight averaging 62 points a game (289th in the nation). Even though we don't see many rebounds from the big guys down low, this does not mean the guards and forwards won't pull them down. Nebraska is 267th in the nation with 32.6 rebounds per game. Similar to UAPB, the Cornhuskers are not one of the friendlier teams in the nation when it comes to passing. Nebraska is ranked 285th in the nation at 11.1 assists per game. We saw the Cornhuskers shoot well above their field goal percentage yesterday. Coming into the game vs. C.Michigan, Nebraska was shooting 44.2 % and ended up shooting at 57.1 % for the game.
The Miners are coming off a sloppy victory, defeating UAPB by a final of 83 to 61. The Miners had five players in double figures, all of which were the starters. Senior guard Konner Tucker (6'4 185 lbs) led the way for the Miners with 18 points and 4 rebounds. All of Tucker's points came from the three point line (6-8). On this night it seemed like almost every shot he took was going to fall. This says a lot about Konner's confidence in his shot. Tucker shows us that he is still willing to shoot the ball despite barely missing the game winner against UNLV.
However, on this night it was not all about Tucker. Junior center John Bohannon (6'10 210 lbs) started the game for the Miners and continued to show his offensive skills for the fans in El Paso. Bohannon had17 points and 8 rebounds for the Miners and kept his turn over's down with only 1. Sophomore guard/forward Julian Washburn (6'7 205 lbs) had 16 points with 10 rebounds. This was J.Washburn's first double-double of the season. Sophomore forward Cedrick Lang (6'9 225 lbs) had 10 points to go along with 4 rebounds. Senior guard Jacques Streeter (6'0 175 lbs) finished with 10 points and 8 assists. Thanks to the addition of Tucker and McKenzie Moore, Streeter now has more outlets to pass to.
The Miners have now put up 80+ points for the second game straight. The Miners are starting to fight for the rebounds as well as their averages are slowly improving every game. UTEP currently ranks 275th in the nation in points per game at 63.1. The Miners are starting to become a pass happy team with 13.1 assists per game (171st in the nation). We are also seeing more rebounds as the Miners average 29.1 per game (334th in the nation). An interesting number to pay attention to would be the Miner's field goal percentage. We have now cracked the top 100 shooting in the nation by averaging 45.6 % per game (80th in the nation). Things are only looking better for the Miners as we continue the season.
Points- Konner Tucker (14.0), Julian Washburn (13.6), John Bohannon (12.8)
Rebounds- John Bohannon (5.8), Cedrick Lang (4.3), Julian Washburn (4.3)
Assists: Jacques Streeter (5.2), Konner Tucker (1.7), John Bohannon (1.6)
Points- Dylan Talley (15), Brandon Ubel (12.9), Ray Gallegos (12.5)
Rebounds- Brandon Ubel (6.7), Dylan Talley (5.7), Andre Almeida (4.3)
Assists- Benny Parker (2.9), Dylan Talley (2.5), Brandon Ubel (1.4)
Final thoughts: After watching the Miners play last night there is one thing that really scared me and that would be that UTEP allowed the worst shooting team in the nation 61 points. There were times in the game where I really felt that the Miners might lose, solely because of poor shot selection and lack luster defense. The beauty of college sports would be halftime. The second half team showed us that they can indeed take better shots. Even though we allowed more points in the second half, a lot of those were off three pointers. If UTEP is to win tonight the key words are BOX OUT. If we allow Nebraska's big men to have an all you can eat buffet of rebounds, it will be a long night. However, if we can tie or even be down in the rebound department by no less than 7 AND have a solid shooting night, I believe the Miners will be victorious tonight. UTEP is the 7.5 point favorite tonight in Vegas. We should see the return of coach Tim Floyd who was fighting the flu last night.
Prediction: Miners 73, Cornhuskers 67