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UTEP at Washington State Preview: Miners return from layoff with road trip to Pullman

Finals, and a week of practice are behind the Miners, now back to the regular season schedule.

After eight days of studying, tests, and practice, the UTEP basketball team will resume regular season play with a Sunday afternoon date with the Washington State Cougars.

The Miners are still searching for a few answers after back-to-back losses at New Mexico State, and at home against UT Arlington.

A few of the answers are UTEP's rebounding issues, defensive issues, and can UTEP's guards get back to the strong offensive play we saw in the five (or six) game winning stretch to the start the season.

UTEP is averaging 60.5 points per game in their last two outings after averaging 83.8 points in their first six games.  The Miners have also forced 134 turnovers this season which has led to 134 points off turnovers to open the season.

Protecting the paint could be a big issue for UTEP when matching up against Washington State.

The Miners have scored only 58 points in the paint, and have been out scored 29-9 in second chance points in the past two games.  UTEP's rebounding margin in the latest two losses has been at a -30 clip, and will face another double-double machine on Sunday

6'10 forward Josh Hawkinson has already recorded four double-doubles, and is 14-for-17 from the field in his past two games.

Washington State also has 7'0 Conner Clifford who is shooting 63 percent from the field, and provides size and space for WSU.  Clifford has reached double figure scoring numbers twice this year, including 12 points in their 78-74 loss at Idaho.

At times WSU will have 6'10 and 7'0 on the floor, something that UTEP struggled with against NMSU.

The guard matchup will also be very intriguing.

6'2 guard Ike Iroegbu is a strong driver who has also shot 10-of-17 from three point land.  His driving ability should be a big concern for the Miners guards, Iroegbu is second on the team in free throw attempts and does a great of finishing through and attracting contact on his drives.

Que Johnson is the Cougars best overall three point shooter despite his low percentage on the season, he's also slowly becoming a reliable scorer as he's improved his scoring average from a year ago.

The biggest stat that jumps out when looking at Washington State is their blocks on the defensive end.

Washington State has 49 blocks on the season, led by 6'10 center Valentine Izundu who has 24 of those blocks so far.  The Cougars are also forcing 15.6 turnovers per game led by Charles Callison who also is averaging three assists per contest this season.

The Cougars will want to play fast, and attack the rim as they shoot 50 percent from the field which currently leads the Pac-12 and have 17 dunks with nine-three point plays that have came from around the rim.

For UTEP getting back to the basics of rebounding, guarding out on the perimeter, and particularity in this game will be guarding the drive, and getting back on defense.

Lee Moore the first Miner to score in double figures in eight straight games to open a season since Randy Culpepper did so in the initial 14 contests of 2009-10, Moore has scored 15+ points in five contests and collected five or more rebounds in six games.

It will also be interesting to see if Omega Harris will see minutes as he tweeted he has been officially cleared.

The Miners will have manufacture offense against a stout, and lengthy Washington State.  Can UTEP bounce back with some efficient offense, and pressure defense that leads to layups?

Three UTEP keys

Efficient tempo

Tempo seems to be a biggest offensive key for UTEP, but the pace could definitely use some efficient touch.  UTEP has attempted more than 20 three pointers in their last three games game, compared to just 12 attempts in the win against Southern Illinois.

If the Miners can drive their way to the free throw line early in the game instead of jacking up three's, the three ball could open in stretches later in the game.

Washington State has the athletes to keep pace, but efficient execution at a high pace could be UTEP's ticket to a win.

Keep Hawkinson in check

This will be tough, but UTEP has to keep Hawkinson off the boards, and keep his second chance points down to a minimum.

The Miners have had a full week to prepare for Hawkinson, guys like Terry Winn, Hooper Vint, and Paul Thomas have to come with a different energy factor against the talented Hawkinson.

Defend the perimeter, and chase down long rebounds

Defensively this will be UTEP most challenging matchup.

Iroegbu and Johnson can shoot it, and the Cougars have legit inside presence that can efficiency put points on the board.  UTEP has seemingly allowed teams to take early threes in order to protect the paint, but how much will that change in this one?

If the Miners can force a couple of tough threes, and close out on long rebounds, UTEP can get out in transition and run.  But if Washington State grabs second chance points, things will be difficult for UTEP on Sunday.

UTEP (5-2) at Washington State (5-2)

Sunday December 13th, 4:00 p.m. Mountain Time

TV: Pac-12 Network