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Friday , February 22 2019
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UTEP to Take on Norfolk State in Sun Bowl Tourney

The UTEP Miners will open the 57th Annual WestStar Bank Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational against Norfolk State on Friday at 7 p.m. in the Haskins Center.

Joining UTEP (4-5) and Norfolk State (4-8) in the tournament are Wyoming (3-7) and East Tennessee State (8-4), who will square off at 5 p.m. on Friday. The consolation game is on Saturday at 5, with the championship to follow at 7.

“[Norfolk State] can really push the ball, score points and play transition defense. They have a couple guys who can make shots. Their older players, [Nic] Thomas and [Derrik] Jamerson can really shoot the ball,” UTEP first-year head coach Rodney Terry said.

Following Sunday’s victory over UC Riverside, Terry had four days to prepare his young squad for their first tournament experience of the season.

“We’ll take it minute-by-minute and really, as a four-minute game by four-minute game,” Terry said. “We really try to chart how we’re doing every four minutes and you have to do that for 40 minutes.”

The Miners and Spartans will face each other for the third time overall – all in the Sun Bowl Tournament.

UTEP last faced Norfolk State in the 54th edition of the holiday event, as the Spartans downed the Miners, 85-76, on Dec. 21, 2015. In their first meeting, the Miners defeated Norfolk State, 93-56, on Dec. 28, 2009 in a first round game in the Sun Bowl Invitational.

The Miners have won 31 Sun Bowl Tournament titles, but not since 2014 when they defeated Kent State, 78-75, to claim the championship on December 22.

The Miners are coming off a 68-56 victory over UC Riverside on Dec. 16 in which UTEP’s leading scorer Evan Gilyard (18.0 ppg) did not play. It marked the third time this season that the Miners allowed less than 60 points.

The UTEP defense has tightened up, as it’s yielding 60 points per game over the last four contests after giving up 76 points on average in the first five games of the season. The Miners rank fifth in Conference USA in field goal percentage defense (.422).

The UTEP freshmen have impressed thus far as Efe Odigie has led the way, posting his fourth double-double on a career-high 24 points with 11 rebounds versus UCR. Odigie added a career-best three steals in 29 minutes of action. Odigie shot 9-of-15 from the field, including an impressive 6-for-7 effort from the charity stripe.

Odigie leads the Miners and ranks second in C-USA at 9.0 rebounds per game, and ranks second on the squad in points per contest (15.7). Odigie has been special as he’s the first UTEP freshman to open a career with nine consecutive double-digit scoring performances.

Fellow freshmen Jordan Lathon and Nigel Hawkins put up solid numbers on Sunday against the Highlanders. Lathon scored 14 points, his third consecutive double-digit performance, while upping his season average to over 10 points per contest.

Lathon also tallied three steals for the second time this season, and has 11 takeaways over the last five contests. Hawkins finished with nine points and three rebounds. Hawkins shot 5-of-6 from the free throw line and is shooting over 72 percent (21-29) from the line on the season.

Sophomore Kobe Magee dished out a season-high seven assists against UCR in 23 minutes of action. Magee also hit a big three-point bucket with just over three minutes remaining in the ball game, putting his team up 59-53. Magee’s trey was part of a 15-6 run to end the game that lifted the Miners over the Highlanders.

Ountae Campbell, a junior transfer who became eligible prior to the Nov. 28 game against NM State, played a season-high 36 minutes. Campbell scored a season-high seven points and connected on a three pointer that started the late run for the Miners when the score was 53-50. Paul Thomas hit shots down the stretch, finishing with nine points and six rebounds, along with three assists.

Norfolk State opened the season with a 63-44 loss at no. 18 Michigan on Nov. 6 and is on a three-game losing skid after a 94-89 double overtime win against Hampton. The Spartans fell at Kent State (78-76), at Rider (81-71) and most recently on Dec. 16 at Loyola Chicago (80-49).

Redshirt junior Thomas leads the team at 14.9 points per game, while 6-6 redshirt senior forward Jordan Butler paces the squad at 5.4 rebounds per game. Alex Long, a 6-8 senior forward, ranks second in points per game (9.5) and rebounds per contest (4.3).

Review+Gallery: Cirque du Soleil’s OVO an ‘Eye-Opener to the Cycle of Life’

As a child, Cirque du Soleil translated to ‘fancy circus’ anytime I’d see commercials or ads. I never did get a chance to check out the glamour of the spectacle until the OVO premiere made its way to the Don Haskins Center.

The fancy circus I’d known in my youth translated to an art form in my adulthood relevant to some lessons in the harmony of humanity, a nice shift from the regular news headlines inundating our feeds and screens.

The teachers in the evening’s lectures of subtle wisdom came in the form of a variety six-legged crawlers. The ‘Ants’ demonstrated the daily scurry of food hunting reminiscent of worldly survival. The precision of leg-juggling large kiwis and corn was the warm up to bigger smiles of astonishment from my 7th row seat.

Food for these critters was sacred, meticulously cared for and shared amongst family, expressed in cadence, balancing and juggling skills. This appetizer of an act was the perfect warm up to the Dragonfly, where human balance and contortion of shocking proportions had my jaw to the floor.

This performer took me back to the 1st grade challenges of ‘lick your elbow’ that no student could manage. I had no doubt that the Dragonfly would have won all the bubblegum wagers in my school yard, given his graceful flexibility and bending of joints and limbs. The human body is a mind-blowing instrument for show, and this act only further encouraged me to appreciate our mind’s vehicle for poetic mobility, strength and endurance.

A beautiful message of partnership and trust followed as two butterflies (in love) shared aerial straps in a ballet number that soothed the audience into sudden, escalated gasps during their eye-popping (and seemingly dangerous) swoops and lifts. The calming nature of their love story was suddenly jolted into high-energy dance by one of my favorite acts that stimulated bellowing laughs and joy from a creature at center stage known as Creatura.

This…bug was like a human-sized slinky that extended in ways one could not tell where it began and where it ended. Nonetheless, the dance moves made complete sense, and even as the outcast, made the most of his self-acceptance and projected pure delight to the audience.

After a brief 20-minute intermission, the stage had transformed into a mid-air trapeze escapade for the team of Scarabs, flinging and catching each other in a Russian Cradle. The aerial act compounded the trust levels in their teamwork, demonstrated flawlessly as they flew confidently over the safety net. The acts seemed to be getting more advanced, building up the crowd energy of excitement and suspense.

Here, my previous notions of the body’s capacity were crushed by even more shocking flexibility when the Spider hit center stage. My mind could not register the angles in which her extremities were folded, maintained, and gracefully shifted to another seemingly impossible position. The ear-to-ear grin translated the illusion of ease and the projection of confidence in her craft.

Now, I had always commended jugglers, given my continuously failed efforts in my youth to continuously toss more than two objects at once.

The Diabolo firefly went beyond the basic term of juggling and lasered his concentration on four spinning spools controlled by a rope clutched by his hands. The heights of the spools reached the trusses of the Don and were caught flawlessly back on the staged earth. The countless ‘oohs and aahs’ became the beat of his motions and the audience added to the show.

The final two acts bellowed wisdom for me, perhaps because I’m in a stage in life where presence, balance and teamwork are critical to my personal and professional areas in life.

The spider in the Slackwire act seemingly floated in midair, with only a string of his silk holding up his twists, turns, jumps and flips, defying gravity and average human limits. Below, a violinist encouraged each trick with intensity of the bow while the audience held their breath.

Soon after, the high energy Crickets alleviate the tension of the tightrope act, only for the colony to astound with advanced gymnastic and dance choreography that had them jumping and flying to unanticipated heights. Teamwork, timing and most importantly, trust stimulated extended applause during the act, which was a perfect finale.

The fancy circus, hosted by a comedic trio in between acts impassioned my inner child but also touched the adult in me as I recognized how the core values of nature aligned with that of performance and humanity.

Art came to life in an unexpected way, a form of entertainment worth the time, money and lesson. OVO was an eye-opener to the cycle of life.

Author: Bianca Cervantes | Photos: Andres Acosta

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