The Miners of Texas-El Paso hope to continue their dominance at the Don Haskins Center tonight, as they entertain the Rice Owls in a Conference USA showdown.
UTEP rebounded from a heart-breaking triple-overtime loss to UAB by posting a solid 69-58 road win at Tulane on Wednesday. It was the Miners' fifth win in the last six games and saw senior Randy Culpepper put up 26 points to become the second-leading scorer in C-USA history behind former teammate Stefon Jackson (2,456 points). Culpepper simply took over in the first half, matching Tulane's 22-point output for the period in giving UTEP a 40-22 lead at intermission. In one early stretch, he had 18 of the Miners' 21 points. A normally potent Green Wave offense was held to 26.5 percent shooting in the opening period and 36.1 percent for the game as they suffered both their first home and conference losses of the season. Julyan Stone ripped down a game-best 15 rebounds and dished out eight assists for the Miners.
Rice is still searching for its first conference win of the year after falling just short in an 81-78 overtime loss to Southern Miss on Wednesday. Junior Connor Frizzelle came up with 21 points and nailed a three-pointer at the end of regulation to force extra time, but the Golden Eagles scored the final six points of OT to claim a resilient win. The Owls were up 13 in the second half before needing a rally of their own, then blew the lead again after racing out to a seven-point edge in overtime. Tamir Jackson added 19 points to the tough loss, Rice's third straight.
UTEP owns a 12-9 edge in the all-time series and has ripped off eight wins in the last 10 meetings. The Miners are 8-2 versus Rice at home with the Owls' last win in enemy territory coming back on January 18, 2003. In fact, UTEP is 33-7 overall in C-USA home games since joining the league in time for the 2005-06 season with an active 11-game win streak.
The Miners have a standout performer in Culpepper, who leads the team with a 20.2 ppg scoring average, 39 three-pointers and 45 steals. He has help, though, in the form of Christian Polk's 12.1 points per game and Jeremy Williams, who posts 10.3 points and 5.9 rebounds per outing. Stone is another stat-sheet filler, averaging 9.2 points while leading the club in both rebounding (6.8 per game) and assists (5.4 per game). With so many solid contributions, UTEP is set for success with nearly a 10-point margin on the scoring front. Opponents put up 64.9 points per game to the Miners' 74.0 and are held to a meager 38.7 percent shooting effort from the field. UTEP counters with a healthy 47.2 percent shooting clip.
The Owls have some pretty good players of their own, but it hasn't translated to wins all that much -- at least to this point. However, Rice does have signature victories over LSU and TCU over its last five games and features a rising talent in sophomore Arsalan Kazemi, who tops the roster at 17.5 points per game and leads C-USA in both rebounding (11.2 per game) and field goal percentage (.633). Kazemi has recorded 11 double-doubles this season and is backed by a solid 13.4 ppg average from fellow sophomore Jackson. Frizzelle averages 9.5 points and sits third in league play in free-throw percentage (.889). The Owls own a healthy plus-4.7 margin on the glass (35.2-30.5) led by Trey Stanton's 5.1 rpg. Stanton also adds 7.1 points per contest. Overall, Rice nets 69.9 points per game on 44.5 percent shooting, while holding the opposition to 43.4 percent on field goal attempts and 68.2 points per game.
UTEP is in the midst of a tremendously promising season under head coach Tim Floyd with a bevy of weapons able to make the difference on a given night. It will be interesting to see where Rice stands in this one as an improving team, but it won't be in the win column at the final buzzer.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Texas-El Paso 73, Rice 66