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CONFERENCES COACHING CHANGES TRANSACTIONS GAMING MATCHUP CURRENT ODDS
Western Illinois (5-7) at Texas-El Paso (8-5)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, December 28, 9 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Don Haskins Center (12,222) -- El Paso, Texas. Television: None. Home Record: WIU 4-0, UTEP 6-2. Away Record: WIU 0-6, UTEP 1-1. Neutral Record: WIU 1-1, UTEP 1-2. Conference Record: WIU 0-0, UTEP 0-0. Series Record: Texas El-Paso leads, 1-0.
GAME NOTES: The opening round of the Sun Belt Invitational continues on Saturday night, as the Western Illinois Leathernecks tangle with the host Texas El-Paso Miners at the Don Haskins Center.
WIU most recently took part in the Basketball Travelers Classic from Dec. 19-21 in Logan, Utah and came away with a win over Troy (61-58) sandwiched in between losses to Utah State (68-52) and UC Santa Barbara (61-55). The Leathernecks are currently 5-7 on the season.
UTEP is currently riding a season-high, three-game win streak to surge to 8-5. The team's most recent victory came over Montana State on Dec. 23, 70-55. This event for the Miners is part of a six-game homestand, and they have enjoyed home cooking this season by going 6-2.
The Miners won the only previous meeting between these two squads.
The good news for the Leathernecks in their most recent game was that they held UCSB to only 35.8 percent efficiency from the field, including 3-of-17 from 3-point range, and 61 points. Unfortunately they couldn't generate enough offense to take advantage, shooting 41.7 percent from the floor in the six- point setback, while also struggling mightily at the foul line (8-of-19). Jabari Sandifer acted as the spark plug off the bench, scoring 13 points on 5- of-6 from the field. Garret Covington netted 12 points, while Adam Link narrowly missed a double-double with 10 points and nine rebounds. WIU has established a similar theme on the season, as it boasts the sixth-best scoring defense in the nation, allowing a mere 56.6 points per game, although its scoring output (60.5 ppg) has been barely enough to support it. Link shoots field goals at greater than a 60 percent for a team-best 12.0 points per game, while Covington (11.9 ppg) is hot on his heels despite a lackluster .364 field goal percentage. Link also helps out with 5.9 rebounds and more than a steal per game.
The Miners had a strong all-around performance in their 15-point victory over Montana State, as they shot 47.8 percent from the field, including 8-of-16 from beyond the arc, while holding their opponent to less than 35 percent shooting. They also claimed a convincing advantage in the rebounding battle, 38-28. Julian Washburn was the catalyst in the triumph, scoring 20 points on 8-of-12 from the floor with four 3-pointers. Cedrick Lang made his mark in just 20 minutes off the bench, tallying a double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds. On the season, UTEP outshoots its opponents from the field, 46.6 percent to 37.7 percent, for a +4.9 scoring margin, although it's situated in the red in both rebounding (-0.3) and turnovers (-1.5). No one on the team scores more than McKenzie Moore's 13.1 points per game, but eight players contribute at least 6.1 points per contest. Washburn (11.4 ppg) and Vince Hunter (10.4 ppg) join Moore in double figures, while Hunter (6.3 rpg) and John Bohannon (8.9 ppg, 7.3 rpg) are both active on the glass.
With the Leathernecks' suffocating defense, they are sure to be competitive in most of their contests this season, but on the road against a tough UTEP squad, figure for WIU's offense to come up short.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Texas-El Paso 63, Western Illinois 59
12/28 10:45:29 ET