Despite a 10-day layoff for finals, rest, and some injury recovery, UTEP will still be undermanned against Incarnate Word tonight in the Don to wrap non-conference play.
We've had some issues this week," Interim Head Coach Phil Johnson said. "We wanted to use these eight or nine days to get better, and we've had guys getting sick. We found out today that Matt [Willms] is probably out for two to three weeks after re-injuring his hand. Trey Wade had to return home due to the passing of his grandmother. Isiah Osborne has been out with strep throat. Tirus Smith has been out for three days with a calf injury. And I'm sure that I'm forgetting one or two guys. So we've had some things go not so well. But the guys that we've had have worked really hard. I think we had six guys for practice a couple of days ago. We're working the best that we can and we'll be ready one way or the other."
Willms played a solid 27 minutes against Washington State, but had trouble handling the ball despite grabbing seven rebounds.
“Every time he touches the ball or catches the ball or gets hit, he's 7-1 and every time he touches it guys are slapping at it," Johnson said. "We talked about putting a glove on it or some kind of brace, but any kind of touching of the hand, even when he passes the ball it gives him pain. The doctor felt like we needed to hold him out for two to three weeks. We'll do that and he'll keep running and get better, and get ready for conference play."
Incarnate Word is coming off back-to-back wins are after three straight losses following a 3-0 start to the season. The Cardinals play a fast, up tempo style, and will try to attack the rim, especially with UTEP’s rim protector on the shelf for the holiday weekend.
Incarnate Word is led by junior forward Simi Socks, who averages 14.8 points per game. He is one of four Cardinals with double-figure scoring averages, along with junior forward Charles Brown III (12.3 ppg), freshman forward Christian Peevy (12.0 ppg) and senior guard Shawn Johnson (11.1 ppg).
All four players are averaging at least 4.8 rebounds per game led by Johnson at 6.8 rpg. Socks tallied 20 points and eight rebounds versus UMKC, while Johnson added a double-double with 15 points and 11 boards. The Cardinals are averaging 81.1 points per game while yielding 75.5 points per outing. Incarnate Word has forced an average of 17.8 turnovers per game, while collecting 8.1 steals per contest. Johnson leads the way with 22 takeaways.
With the Miners shorthanded once again, rust is not a factor according to Phil Johnson as UTEP will play three games this week to wrap up non-conference play.
“I told [the players] yesterday that the beauty of playing these three games in four days, it's very similar to the Conference USA Tournament where you're playing three games in four days if you get that far," Johnson said. "It's good experience. We've had 10 days off and a lot of practice. I'm worried about being rusty and not being ready to go play. I know our guys will give a good effort, there's no question about that. All these three teams are capable of coming in here and playing well and beating us, and we can't take anybody lightly. I think our guys are ready to roll. We're ready to play. They're tired of me and they're tired of practice."