The UTEP men’s basketball team is back in action on Tuesday (Dec. 19) with the “Hoops for the Holidays” game against Incarnate Word at 7 p.m. in the Haskins Center.
Fans can visit the North Pole in the arena concourse to take pictures with Santa and friends. The game will also feature a special holiday halftime show.
The Miners (3-6) are coming off back-to-back quality wins over New Mexico and Washington State, but will be at less than full strength when they come off a 10-day break between games.
“We’ve had some issues this week,” Interim Head Coach Phil Johnson said. “We wanted to use these eight or nine days to get better, and we’ve had guys getting sick. We found out today that Matt [Willms] is probably out for two to three weeks after re-injuring his hand. Trey Wade had to return home due to the passing of his grandmother. Isiah Osborne has been out with strep throat. Tirus Smith has been out for three days with a calf injury. And I’m sure that I’m forgetting one or two guys. So we’ve had some things go not so well. But the guys that we’ve had have worked really hard. I think we had six guys for practice a couple of days ago. We’re working the best that we can and we’ll be ready one way or the other.”
Willms returned to the lineup against Washington State after missing four games, and gave the Miners eight points and seven rebounds in 27 minutes off the bench. But he’s back on the shelf temporarily.
“Every time he touches the ball or catches the ball or gets hit, he’s 7-1 and every time he touches it guys are slapping at it,” Johnson said. “We talked about putting a glove on it or some kind of brace, but any kind of touching of the hand, even when he passes the ball it gives him pain. The doctor felt like we needed to hold him out for two to three weeks. We’ll do that and he’ll keep running and get better, and get ready for conference play.”
Willms hopes to return for the league opener against North Texas, which is just 10 days away.
After playing only two games in 18 days to start the month – and winning them both — the Miners will play three in the next four days as they’ll take part in the WestStar Bank Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational on Thursday and Friday in the Haskins Center.
“I told [the players] yesterday that the beauty of playing these three games in four days, it’s very similar to the Conference USA Tournament where you’re playing three games in four days if you get that far,” Johnson said. “It’s good experience. We’ve had 10 days off and a lot of practice. I’m worried about being rusty and not being ready to go play. I know our guys will give a good effort, there’s no question about that. All these three teams are capable of coming in here and playing well and beating us, and we can’t take anybody lightly. I think our guys are ready to roll. We’re ready to play. They’re tired of me and they’re tired of practice.”
Up first are the Cardinals, who improved to 5-3 following a 77-73 victory over UMKC on Saturday in San Antonio. Incarnate Word is led by junior forward Simi Socks, who averages 14.8 points per game. He is one of four Cardinals with double-figure scoring averages, along with junior forward Charles Brown III (12.3 ppg), freshman forward Christian Peevy (12.0 ppg) and senior guard Shawn Johnson (11.1 ppg).
All four players are averaging at least 4.8 rebounds per game led by Johnson at 6.8 rpg. Socks tallied 20 points and eight rebounds versus UMKC, while Johnson added a double-double with 15 points and 11 boards. The Cardinals are averaging 81.1 points per game while yielding 75.5 points per outing. Incarnate Word has forced an average of 17.8 turnovers per game, while collecting 8.1 steals per contest. Johnson leads the way with 22 takeaways.
The Miners will give them a battle, albeit short-handed.
“We have enough guys to go play right now,” Johnson said.
Tickets start at just $8 and are available by calling (915) 747-5234.