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UTEP basketball notebook: Senior leadership highlights weekend sweep

A look at a few high notes and quotes from Saturday's win against Middle Tennessee.

Alex Nicolas (SB Nation)

Defensive concerns minus Matt Willms=Miners need efficient shooting/scoring going forward

UTEP set a school record for three point percentage in a game, and finished a much needed 27 out of 34 at the free throw line for the best shooting mark of memory in the Tim Floyd era against Middle Tennessee.

With the absence of Matt Willms, the Miners felt the missing effects of his defensive presence by allowing 34 points in the paint.  To cancel out the possible issue of protecting the paint going forward, countering that with efficient shooting is UTEP's best bet.

Julian Washburn's big scoring night not only broke records, but could open up some confidence for the senior going forward.

"It feels good to finally see some shots go in, I haven't shot the ball well at all this whole season." Washburn said. "Most importantly we won the game, I still feel like we have a chance to win this league, but we have to play every game like we did tonight."

The Miners made 21 of their first 22 free throws attempts, and the emergence of Julian Washburn's jumper over the weekend is a huge threat for the Miners, but the most important stat line of the night had to come from Vince Hunter who was a perfect 9/9 from the foul stripe.

"I'm really proud of Vince," Floyd said.  "He's spent an inordinate amount of time working on these free throws and he's 21-for-25 the last two games.  Very, very important.  All of our guys stepped up with confidence."

But without Matt Willms in the paint, it seems coach Floyd feels teams will be more reluctant to challenge UTEP in the paint.

"A lot of these drives would have been contested with Matt in there, he's a big part of what we do on the defensive end, a lot of shots weren't changed that normally are." Floyd said. "We've have to do a better job of guarding the dribble, they drove us at will, our collective defense has to be better."

If UTEP can't clean up the defensive woes in the paint during Willms' absence, the Miners will have to bring the efficiency on the offensive end at the most consistent level we've seen all year.

Ball movement, and guard play against Middle Tennessee was key

When you look at the stat sheet from the Middle Tennessee game most who didn't see the game would say how was the ball movement on point if UTEP only had 13 assists.

A big part of UTEP getting to the free throw line 34 times was the pass or pass off a drive that got them there.

"The ball really moved tonight, inside in and out and on the penetration." Floyd said, "They didn't feel like it was a reward just because they were penetrating they dumped it, we were in the paint all night long."

C.J. Cooper had his best floor game of the year with five assists and one turnover, and we never think of Washburn's play as true guard play, but with the way he stretched the defense, rebounded, and took care of the ball added a much needed overall lift from a guard.

"We had to step up today." C.J. Cooper said.  "With the loss of Matt we're limited, and all the guards we knew he had to step up, and I think every one stepped up today."

Middle Tennessee applied great perimeter pressure from the start, but turnovers were never a factor for UTEP, and the offense was never stagnant with Cooper in the game.  Omega Harris has been turnover prone the past few games, but his efficient shooting night and his ability to move the ball in the half court with his dribble were keys in getting UTEP in a rhythm early on.

Senior leaders have a huge weekend

One of the biggest takeaways from the weekend was the determined play of UTEP's seniors.

"Coach Floyd talked us to see whether we were either going to sink or play hard and pick it up." C.J. Cooper said. "These last two games we just put it all on the line, we know we have a chance to win this conference still, we just had to talk and go out there and play hard."

Cedrick Lang had huge back-to-back 10 rebound games this weekend, we all know he brings ultimate hustle, and hard work but Ced took it another level the past two games.

Not only was he active and gritty in the paint, and full spread diving for loose balls.  Ced was also 7/12 from the free line as well thanks to a handful of and-one chances. Lang's weekend performance probably gave Don Haskins a huge smile and nod from above.

A determined C.J. Cooper and Julian Washburn is needed for UTEP to turn that corner we have been waiting for, and Ced's play seemed to energize the entire team, most importantly for UTEP the senior leadership has arrived during the most important time of the season.

"Cedrick was great, I thought he really played terrific." Coach Floyd said. "Julian Washburn that's as good as he's been in a long, long time he was absolutely terrific offensively,  C.J. Cooper had five assists and one turnover that's a great line."

The three seniors combined for 67 points, 26 rebounds, and 11 assists and a combined 21/38 from the field over the weekend home stand.

Foul and minutes management

One thing reiterated and repeated after the Middle Tennessee game was UTEP's short rotation, and how the Miners will get through it.

"Losing Matt who is such critical part of what we do.  We don't have a lot of numbers, don't have a lot of guys.  We're down to eight." Floyd said.  "Lew Stallworth hadn't played, Hooper hadn't been playing large minutes.  Those guys played 32 minutes for us tonight, which were really big.  Hopefully they gained a little confidence in doing it."

Just like last season when UTEP was dealt a shorthand, Floyd will be busy tinkering with defense's to protect his rotation from foul trouble.

"The fact that we're limited, we're having to change defenses a lot," Floyd said.  "Middle Tennessee did a great job of recognizing that.  We're going to have to mix to try to keep those guys around."

Floyd did a great coaching job of keeping guys fresh, while managing fouls, and says the changing defense's approach is key to help keep guys like Hunter and Lang on the floor for offense.

"I think our guys played really spirited, they played really smart through the fouls." Floyd said. "We were able to still throw Vince out there with two fouls, able to throw Cedrick Lang out there with two fouls to be able to utilize them on the offensive end because of the changing defense's.  Normally coaches would sit those guys.  It was give and take and we have to do a little bit of that right now, and it maybe through the end of the season."

With no red-shirts planned to be yanked, Floyd started managing minutes early with Ced given a blow right a the 16:00 minute mark of the first half, while nobody in the rotation played more than 33 minutes.  Something opposing teams will have to prepare for going forward in terms of match ups.