GAME NOTES: The Miners of Texas-El Paso try to snap a two game slide on Friday as they meet up with the Clemson Tigers as part of the Old Spice Classic at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida.
Since opening the campaign with a 69-49 win over Oral Roberts at home, the Miners have fallen to both Arizona (72-51) and, on Thursday, the Oklahoma Sooners by a score of 68-61. Against the Sooners, UTEP trailed by as many as 20 points before cutting the deficit to only four, before failing to complete the comeback bid.
As for the Tigers, they began the 2012-13 campaign with consecutive victories over lesser teams such as Presbyterian and Furman, by 33 and 17 points, respectively, before being topped by 17th-ranked Gonzaga on Thanksgiving, 57-49.
The Miners lead the all-time series between these two teams by a count of 4-1.
Both schools will be back in action in the final round of the tournament on Sunday, matching up with Marist and Vanderbilt pending the outcomes of these meetings.
UTEP made a total of just nine field goals in the first half against the Sooners and dug itself a huge hole as Oklahoma moved out to a 20-point advantage in the second half. But the defense for the Miners showed up and limited Oklahoma to only 8-of-29 shooting from the floor in the period, allowing the Miners to stage a comeback that just fell short. Chris Washburn led the way with 12 points, adding six rebounds, followed by Julian Washburn and Jacques Streeter who recorded 11 points apiece in the losing cause. Part of the problem for the Miners was that they were forced into 17 turnovers and could only manage 19 made field goals in the meeting. On a team that is scoring only 60.3 ppg, Chris and Julian Washburn are the only ones scoring in double digits with averages of 12.3 and 11.0 ppg, respectively. However, while Chris is making it happen with an impressive 61.9 percent accuracy from the field, Julian's 30.6 percent is far from optimal.
The Tigers shot only 34.5 percent from the field, including 2-of-9 behind the three-point line, in the first half against Gonzaga, yet that was still good enough to earn the squad a 24-23 edge at the break. In the second half it was a much different story as Clemson made a total of just eight field goals, while the Zags connected on 70 percent from the field in order to pull away. The starting five combined to shoot only 7-of-28 from the floor, which meant they needed Adonis Filer to come off the bench to become the only double-digit scorer with a mere 10 points. After three games Filer is posting 7.7 ppg, a modest number for sure, but that effort has come at a considerable price since he is shooting just 28.6 percent from the field. At the top of the scoring list, Devin Booker checks in with 10.3 ppg, connecting on 60 percent of his shots while playing less than 22 minutes per outing. In fact, spreading the minutes across the roster seems to be the objective of the Tigers at the moment with only two players on the floor for more than an average of 23 minutes per contest.
Neither one of these teams has a single, dominant performer on the roster, although that could change down the line. For now, the defense for the Tigers should be what gets them into the win column on Friday.