GAME NOTES: The Texas-El Paso Miners will try to keep atop the Conference USA standings today, as they take on the Rice Owls at the Tudor Fieldhouse in Houston.
The Miners enter the day in first place at 5-2, but five other teams trail UTEP by just one game in the loss column, so there is no margin for error in a tight C-USA race. UTEP though, is hoping to bounce back from one of its two league losses last time out, dropping a tough 69-68 decision at Tulsa a week ago. The loss ended a four-game winning streak for the Miners, who had to wait longer for a shot at redemption after Wednesday's game versus UCF was canceled due to bad weather conditions. The Miners are still 17-5 overall and they have yet to drop consecutive games this season.
As for the Owls, they too have reason to be confident today, having posted victories in three of their last four games. On Wednesday, Rice picked up a 71-61 victory at Tulane to improve to 3-5 in conference action. The Owls are obviously doing well since their 0-4 start to conference play, but they face a tough task against UTEP today.
With regard to the all-time series, UTEP holds a 13-9 edge over Rice and that takes into account a 66-43 trouncing in a meeting less than a month ago.
Justin Hurtt hit a jumper with seven seconds left, sending Tulsa to a 69-68 win over UTEP. The Miners, who took the lead on a Randy Culpepper trey with 23 seconds remaining, were unable to respond in the closing moments following Hurtt's bucket. UTEP shot just 38.5 percent from the floor compared to 54.0 percent by Tulsa and the Miners were also outrebounded 37-27 for the game. Randy Culpepper paced the team in defeat with a 28-point effort, while Christian Polk tallied 19 points and three assists. With his effort, Culpepper is now averaging a team-high 19.6 ppg for the season and he is also a terrific defender, leading UTEP with 52 steals. Polk ranks second with both 12.2 ppg and 3.4 apg, while Jeremy Williams contributes 10.5 ppg and 5.4 rpg. Julyan Stone is also an important player for the Miners, as he leads the team in rebounding (7.5 rpg) and assists (5.5 apg) to go with 8.4 ppg.
The Owls shot 46.9 percent from the floor, including 7-of-16 from long distance, as they defeated Tulane on the road this past Wednesday. Rice also went 18-of-20 at the foul line, in addition to holding Tulane to just a 38.9 percent shooting performance from the field. Connor Frizzelle made 5-of-6 three-pointers on his way to a team-high 25 points in the win, while Tamir Jackson had 20 points and three assists. Arsalan Kazemi got into the mix as well, registering a double-double of 11 points and a whopping 19 rebounds. It was typical sound effort from Kazemi, who leads the team with his double- double average of 16.3 ppg and 12.0 rpg on the season. Jackson tacks on 13.0 ppg and 3.4 apg for the Owls, while Frizzelle chips in with 10.8 ppg.
Rice is playing well right now, but the Miners are just too talented and they should prevail behind their star player in Culpepper.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Texas-El Paso 69, Rice 60