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HP Sports in Depth: Miners Bounce into Birmingham for C-USA Championship

The UTEP men’s basketball team arrived in Birmingham late Monday night to begin preparations for the 2017 Conference USA Championships Presented by metroPCS.  The Miners (14-16) will face either fifth seed Rice or 12th-seed Southern Miss in the tournament quarterfinals on Thursday (March 9) at 1 p.m. Mountain time/2 p.m. Central.

The game will be televised on the American Sports Network and can be seen on KFOX Channel 14 in El Paso.

UTEP has won 12 of its last 15 games and is riding high after securing a first-round bye with a 74-67 victory over Charlotte in the regular season finale on Saturday at the Haskins Center.

“It’s an exciting time of the year, not only for us but the other 11 teams that are going to be in the tournament,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said.  “Everybody is hopeful.  In our case, we have given ourselves a path that is a little easier, only having to play three games to get to the NCAA Tournament versus four.  We have no idea who we’re going to play, but it will be a team that is spirited and talented and very capable of beating us, so we’re going to have to play well on Thursday.”

Rice (21-10) will be a heavy favorite against Southern Miss (9-21) on Wednesday.  But the Owls beat the Golden Eagles twice by a combined four points during the regular season, and had to go overtime to secure a 72-71 victory on Feb. 23 in Houston.

UTEP has enjoyed success as a no. 4 seed in conference tournaments.  In five previous appearances (three in the Western Athletic Conference, one in C-USA), the Miners reached the title game three times as a no. 4 seed and won the WAC title in 1990.  In the Miners’ lone appearance as a no. 4 seed in the C-USA Tourney, they bowed out to no. 5 Houston, 89-85 in overtime, in the 2009 quarterfinals.  The Miners have advanced in seven straight C-USA Tournaments and eight of the last nine.

The Miners have five players who have played in a total of 16 C-USA Tournament games – Jake Flaggert (four), Omega Harris (four), Matt Willms (four), Dominic Artis (two) and Trey Touchet (two).  Artis will be playing in his eighth conference tournament game on Thursday.  He led Oregon to the Pac-12 Tournament championship in 2013.

UTEP has enjoyed a lot of success recently against Rice (17-4 in the last 21 meetings), not so much against Southern Miss (4-8 in the last 12 matchups).  But all history goes out the window in postseason play, and the important thing is that the Miners are feeling good about themselves going in.

“The guys are confident and I think we’re healthy.  That certainly helps,” Floyd said.  “We have won 12 of 15 down the stretch and in the losses, we have been right there with a chance to win.  We know that defense has been our calling card and offensive efficiency of late has been good.  Six turnovers in the last ballgame is a nice stat.  We are certainly looking forward to getting out there and competing.”

The Miners will likely go as far as their guards will carry them this time of the year, and Monday was an exciting day as Artis (second team) and Harris (third team) both earned a spot on the All-Conference USA Team.  Artis, the Miners’ lone senior, will be making his last stand this week.

“That’s terrific for him [making second team All-Conference],” Floyd said.  “He certainly deserves at least that.  He has been a huge part of our turnaround.  He has had some incredible numbers with the 400 points, 150 rebounds, 150 assists and 50 steals.  He has worked as hard as any guy that I’ve had away from the floor at trying to make himself better.  I think he has had a really nice final 12 of 13 ballgames for us.  Defensively is where he has made his most improvement.  He is a terrific rebounder as a point guard, probably the best I have had in that area.”

UTEP won at Rice, 79-71, on Feb. 18, and split two games versus Southern Miss during the regular season. The Miners lost in Hattiesburg (73-65) on Jan. 7 before beginning their 12-3 run, which included an 80-50 rout of the Golden Eagles on Feb. 11 in El Paso.

OPENING TIP

–    UTEP is seeded fourth in the 2017 Conference USA Championships Presented by metroPCS.  The Miners (14-16) will face either fifth seed Rice or 12th seed Southern Miss in the tournament quarterfinals on Thursday (March 9) at 1 p.m. Mountain time/2 p.m. Central.
–    The game will be televised on the American Sports Network.  In El Paso, it can be seen on KFOX Channel 14 or over the air CBS 4.2.  Please check local listings for availability on satellite packages.
–    Rice (21-10) and Southern Miss (9-21) will square off in the first round of the tournament on Wednesdayat 1 p.m. Mountain time/2 p.m. Central.  Rice beat Southern Miss twice this season, on Jan. 21 in Hattiesburg (61-58) and on Feb. 23 in Houston (72-71 in overtime).
–    The winner of Thursday’s game will advance to Friday’s semifinals at 10:30 a.m. Mountain time/11:30 a.m. Central.  That game will be shown on CBS Sports Network.  The championship game is on Saturday, March 11 at 6:30 p.m. Mountain time/7:30 p.m. Central (CBS Sports Network).
–    UTEP is 1-1 versus Rice and 1-2 versus Southern Miss in conference tournaments.  The Miners beat the Owls in the 2005 WAC semis (85-77) in Reno, and lost to the Owls in the 2007 C-USA first round (77-74) in Memphis.  UTEP beat the Golden Eagles in the 2006 C-USA quarterfinals in Memphis (66-47), lost to the Golden Eagles in the 2013 C-USA semifinals in Tulsa (85-67), and lost to the Golden Eagles in the 2014 quarterfinals in El Paso (64-56).

C-USA TOURNEY HISTORY

–    UTEP is 12-11 in C-USA Championship games, reaching the semifinals in 2006, 2008, 2013, 2015 and 2016 and the final in 2010 & 2011.
–    The Miners’ all-time conference tournament record is 39-26 (includes a forfeit against Hawaii in the 1996 WAC Tournament).  UTEP captured WAC Tournament crowns in 1984, 1986, 1989, 1990 and 2005.
–    UTEP was seeded third in the C-USA Championship  in  2006,  10th  in  2007,  sixth  in  2008, fourth in 2009, first in 2010, third in 2011, eighth in 2012, third in 2013, fifth in 2014, second in 2015 and sixth in 2016.
–    UTEP was also a no. 4 seed in the 2009 tournament.  The Miners lost to no. 5 Houston, 89-85 in overtime, in the quarterfinals at Memphis.  UTEP is 7-4 all-time as a no. 4 seed in conference tournaments.  UTEP was seeded fourth in the 1988, 1990, 1993 and 1999 WAC Tournament (the Miners won the fourth seed out of the Pacific Division in 1999).  UTEP reached the WAC Tournament final three of those four years (1988, 1990 and 1993) and captured the title in 1990.

COACH FLOYD IN CONFERENCE TOURNAMENTS

–    UTEP’s Tim Floyd is 28-19 in 21 conference tournaments with three titles and nine berths in the title game.
–    The titles came in 1990 at New Orleans, 1996 at Iowa State and 2009 at USC.  His teams were conference tournament runner-up in 1989, 1991 and 1993 (New Orleans), 1995 (Iowa State), 2007 (USC) and 2011 (UTEP).
–    UTEP has won its first game in the C-USA Tournament every year under Floyd, who is in his seventh season.  Floyd’s teams (including USC from 2007-09) have advanced in the conference tournament in nine consecutive seasons.  The Miners, meanwhile, have advanced in their last seven C-USA Tournament appearances dating back to 2010, and in eight of the last nine years.

SERIES NOTES

–    UTEP leads the Rice series 21-11 and has won 17 of the last 21 meetings between the schools, including seven in a row.
–    UTEP owns a 15-12 advantage in the Southern Miss series, but the Golden Eagles have won eight of the last 12 matchups and seven of the last 10.

UTEP 79, RICE 71 (FEB. 18)

–    Paul Thomas scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half, and UTEP led from start to finish in a 79-71 victory in Houston.
–    UTEP jumped out to a 16-6 lead, led by as many as 14 in the second half and met every charge by the Owls, who had their five-game win streak snapped.
–    The Miners crushed Rice in the paint, 24-10, and made 9-of-14 three pointers (64.3 percent).
–    Dominic Artis scored 16 points with six rebounds, seven assists and three steals.  Omega Harris scored 15 points with an efficient shooting night (6-for-10 FGs, 3-for-4 3FGs).  Jake Flaggert was 3-for-3 from long range, all in the second half.  Thomas made 7-of-9 shots and added 11 rebounds.
–    Rice’s three big guns — Marcus Evans, Egor Koulechov and Marcus Jackson — combined to score 31 points on 7-for-26 shooting from the field, 4-for-18 from three.

SOUTHERN MISS 73, UTEP 65 (JAN. 7)

–    Omega Harris and Dominic Artis combined for 49 points, but Southern Miss converted 16 Miner turnovers into 24 points and raced to a 73-65 victory in Hattiesburg.
–    UTEP trailed 39-31 at halftime and got down by 11 early in the second half.  The Miners scored the next seven points to make it 48-44, but couldn’t get closer.
–    Another key stretch came midway through the second half when, after Harris’ free throw made it a six-point game (54-48), Southern Miss’ Robert Thomas nailed a three pointer.
–    Finally, with UTEP trailing by six (69-63) and under two minutes left, Artis and Harris missed a series of shots that could’ve made things interesting had they gone down.
–    Harris scored 26 points, and Artis added 23 points, 13 rebounds and four steals.  Quinton Campbell scored 24 points with 10 rebounds for Southern Miss, and Cortez Edwards added 17 points.

UTEP 80, SOUTHERN MISS 50 (FEB. 11)

–    Dominic Artis scored six of his 20 points during a 16-0 run early in the second half as UTEP thumped Southern Miss in the Don Haskins Center.
–    The Miners made 12 three pointers led by Artis, who was 6-for-9 from long range.  UTEP finished 12-for-23 from beyond the arc and shot 52.9 percent from the field on a night where Southern Miss’ game plan was to take the Miners’ inside game away.
–    The Miners led 41-31 at the half.  Southern Miss cut it to nine (45-36) with 16:48 to play before UTEP went on the 16-0 run to take command.
–    Artis had 10 assists and six rebounds.  Omega Harris scored 17 points and Jake Flaggert hit three threes, the equalizer with Matt Willms and Paul Thomas combining for 13 points (four in the first half).

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