Vince Hunter scored 18 points and hauled in 12 rebounds, but fouled out after a pair of questionable calls midway through the second half, and the Miners just couldn't overcome that, falling to the third ranked Arizona Wildcats 60-55.
Once again, the trend continued. UTEP was unable to get going to start the game, and quickly found themselves down 7-0 just over 2 minutes in. The Wildcats would extend their lead out to as many as 13 at 15-2 before the Miners would finally be able to get going.
A Julian Washburn made three would start the run, and six straight by Hunter would close the gap to 8 at 19-11 with still over eight minutes left in the first half. The Miners would continue to scrap, and would eventually pull even at 21 after a made Hunter layup.
The two teams would play the final three minutes of the half fairly even, but a Stanley Johnson three as time expired would be the difference in the first half as the Wildcats would take a 28-25 lead into the locker rooms.
UTEP would again come out a bit sluggish to start the final 20 minutes, and Arizona would take advantage, using a small 8-4 run to open things back out to 8 at 37-29 with about 16 minutes left to play.
The Miners would not fold though. An Omega Harris three would bring the two teams even at 38, and another Hunter basket 55 second later would give the Miners their first lead of the game at 40-38 with 12:46 left to play.
That lead would be maintained for the next three minutes, but a dunk by Kaleb Tarczewski with 9:59 left to play gave Arizona their lead back, and they wouldn't relinquish it again.
Vince Hunter picked up a very ticky tack reach foul, his fourth, 30 seconds later, and would be called for his fifth, on very minimal incidental contact, just one minute later.
Those two fouls completely changed the complexion of the game, and the Wildcats would waste no time taking advantage, extending their lead all the way out to as many as 10 at 56-46 with 3:31 to play.
A few made buckets would give the Miners some hope down the stretch, and they would be able to get back to within four, but the final nail came after an offensive rebound off a pair of missed Arizona free throws. They would convert the next two, and stretch it back to six with 27 seconds left. In the end, the Miners would fall by a final of 60-55.
Vince Hunter led the way for the Miners, finishing with 18 points and 12 rebounds in 28 minutes of action. Omega Harris also played big, going for 10 points, 4 rebounds and 4 steals, but no other Miner would score in double figures.
Stanley Johnson was the leading scorer for the Wildcats, finished with 17 points and 6 rebounds. Gabe York finished with 13 points, and Brandon Ashley chipped in with 10 points and 6 rebounds.
Team stats were virtually identical in most areas. The Wildcats had a small advantage in shooting from the field, 45% to 40%, but both teams finished with 34 rebounds and 10 steals, and both assists and turnovers were separated by just one.
The biggest disparities came in three point shooting, where Arizona knocked in 5-11 for 45.5% compared to just 3-10 (30%) for the Miners. They also held an advantage in free throws, knocking in 15-26 (57.7%) to 8-18 (44.4%) for UTEP.
The loss drops the Miners to 6-4 on the season, while improving Arizona to 12-0. There were certainly plenty of things the Miners could've done better, but they stood toe to toe with the #3 team in the nation and nearly came away with the win.
Offensively, the Miners have just got to figure out how to start faster. Sure they were able to come back and take the lead, but just think of what might have happened had they not fallen behind 15-2 early on.
Over the first 5:13 of the first half, and 3:39 of the second half (total of 8:52), the Miners were outscored 23-6. That just cannot happen if you want to knock off a team of this caliber.
Truth be told, we could talk all night about the calls against the Miners, and with good reason, but in the end we had our opportunities and just could not convert.
Up next, the Miners will take on Alcorn State in the opening round of the Weststar Bank Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational Sunday in the Don. Tipoff for that game is slated for 7:00 p.m. MT.
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