UTEP head coach Tim Floyd used an interesting comparison when he talked about playing UTSA for the second time this season.
"As we've watched for 90 years in the UTEP and New Mexico State series, you've seen UTEP go over to Las Cruces and win and the Aggies come over here and win." Floyd said, "So we're going to have some really spirited practices here. These practices [this week] are going to be competitive with a lot of reminders about series that have taken place in the country this year where the home team has lost and gone on the road and won. One that comes to mind most recently is Seton Hall and Marquette, where they flipped it. So you've got to be careful and we've got to play hard."
While UTSA is no NMSU of the past or present, they are 5-3 since UTEP rolled the Runners 73-55 at their place, and have had some key seniors emerge during their surge to the middle of the conference standings.
One of most improved players in the conference over the past few weeks has been UTSA's senior seven-footer Kaj-Bjorn Sherman.
During a five game stretch before their loss to Charlotte last Saturday, Sherman averaged 17.2 points per game, and 7.4 rebounds per outing, including a monster 28 point, 15 rebound effort against FAU.
Sherman's emergence as a worrisome threat in the post has seemingly gave UTSA a legit post presence along side all-world senior Jeromie Hill who has also had an all-conference worthy stretch as of late.
Hill has reached double figure scoring numbers in 15 straight games now, and is averaging 16.8 points per game, and 9.2 rebounds per game in his last five outings. His leadership, and presence has greatly attributed to UTSA's win total improvement this season.
The Runners are becoming a true inside-out team mixed with their pick and roll, and pick and pop actions, making more of an emphasis on forcing post touches with Sherman, and Hill, and have scored at least 30 points in the paint in their last three games.
Tim Floyd on UTSA
"We know that we're playing a team that can really score, with Jeromie Hill, we're looking at a first team All-League player and one of the premier perimeter players in our league."
One clear advantage UTEP has is within the guard match ups, although UTSA senior guard Keon Lewis might have something to say about that.
Lewis has been a sub-consistent scorer for most the of year, but has turned into an efficient and reliable scorer in the past four games averaging 21 points per game, and is shooting 23/37 from the field inside the last four games.
Letting the offense come to him is when Lewis is most effective as a scoring threat, but its hard to see him having those type of numbers against either Julian Washburn, Omega Harris, or Earvin Morris.
Junior guard Ryan Bowie contributes to UTSA having four players average double figure scoring numbers. Lewis, Hill, Sherman, and Bowie all rank among the top-25 scorers in the C-USA.
Bowie defines the meaning of streaky shooter, after a 4/8 performance from behind the three point line against Middle Tennessee, Bowie is in a 5/26 slump from three in the past five games since that Middle Tennessee game.
But don't let that slump totally fool you, I watched Bowie tear apart Southern Miss. with his three point shooting, and he can become a legit dagger giver outer when he is on.
For UTEP defense has been the calling card, but more so the improvement of the man-to-man defense, and ability to contest and protect the paint without getting into foul trouble which will be key against the Runners.
Julian Washburn further clarified Tim Floyd's Bruce Bowen comparison with a magnificent defensive performance against ODU and Trey Freeman. Though on the offensive end Washburn is really coming alive, shooting 62 percent from the field combined in his last three games.
Two things are happening for UTEP that has took this team to another level during this win streak, and its the offensive confidence of C.J. Cooper, and the energy, and relentless effort Cedrick Lang is bringing.
During the win streak, Cooper has 13 assists compared to only three turnovers, and has reached double figure scoring numbers in five out of the six games.
As usual, Lang has been taking care of all the dirty work in the paint, but his effort and will to not let this team lose has rose to another level which has been fueling UTEP's energy in important stretches.
Not only is Ced doing all the little things right, he has posted some impressive lines during the streak, averaging 9.4 points per game, and 8.7 rebounds per game inside the win streak, and has also dished out eight assists in his last three games combined.
With the solid offensive, and overall inspiring play of UTEP's seniors, it has allowed Vince Hunter to become more of a threat on the defensive end.
Hunter has struggled with turnovers during the win streak, but has had six total blocks in the last three games, and eight steals in the past four. The knee seems to be a small issue at times, but it hasn't effected his motor on either end of the floor.
Guarding on the three point line was once a weakness for this UTEP team, but they have only allowed one team to shoot over 40 percent from three in the past four games. It has to be on point again versus UTSA who can keep themselves in it with consistent three point shooting.
I hate the term "trap game" but on paper this is clearly one for UTEP, but with the focus, intensity, and leadership that has became an identity for the Miners over the past three weeks it's hard to see that fading anytime soon.
A-ROD's Opening Line: UTEP -14
|Who?||UTSA Roadrunners at UTEP Miners|
|Date/Time||Saturday, February 21st, 7:05 p.m. Mountain Time|
|Location||Don Haskins Center, El Paso, Texas|
|Series Record||UTEP leads 7-1|