After a lackadaisical finish to Saturday’s win over Marshall left a bitter taste in the mouth of coach Tim Floyd, the UTEP basketball team will have a chance to make amends on Monday at 7 p.m. with a non-conference home game against Houston Baptist.
The Miners (8-6, 2-0 Conference USA) and the Huskies (4-12, 0-2 Great West Conference) will square off for the first time since the 1991-92 season, when UTEP blasted Houston Baptist 95-65 as part of a 27-7 season that ended in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. UTEP, incidentally, set a Haskins Center record with 61 rebounds in that game.
UTEP is 4-0 all-time versus the Huskies, with three meetings in the early to mid ‘70s.
Houston Baptist has lost six straight games and 11 of its last 12. The Huskies are 0-8 on the road with losses to Hawaii (73-60), Eastern Illinois (64-44), Rice (61-53), UT Arlington (81-47), Oregon (91-50), LSU (75-58), Texas A&M (67-59) and Utah Valley (83-62).
Senior forward Art Bernardi leads the team in scoring (13.3 ppg) and rebounding (5.3 rpg). Sophomore guard Tyler Russell averages 11.4 ppg and freshman swingman Dauson Womack collects 5.0 rpg.
In the last NCAA statistical report (Jan. 10), Houston Baptist ranked 335th out of 345 schools in fouls per game (21.3), and 336th in turnovers per game (17.7), major culprits in its struggles.
“It’s a team that has played some really good basketball against some great teams, although their record doesn’t show it,” Floyd said. “They’ve been able to hang in games for long periods of time. Their guy has been there forever, so they must like him. They must think he can coach.”
Ron Cottrell is in his 22nd season at the helm of the Huskies’ program. He is also associate director of athletics at the school. Cottrell is the school’s all-time leader in victories with 410.
While it may seem like an odd time to play a non-conference game – sandwiched in-between league tilts with Marshall on Saturday and at Tulsa Wednesday – Floyd explained that “It was the only place we could fit it in, and we needed a game.”
While he emphasized first and foremost the importance of getting a win on Monday, Floyd also suggested that he’d like to go deeper into his bench with a quick turnaround looming for the Golden Hurricane.
“I would love to play more guys,” he said. “The guys on the floor might dictate that somebody else needs to play. And we’re willing to do that if it presents itself. I would love to get Twymond Howard and Hooper Vint more minutes in this ball game. I don’t know that we’re going to be able to do that. We’re going to work really hard on Monday morning for an hour and 15 minutes and see if we can’t come out and play better than we did [on Saturday].”
The Miners took the foot off the accelerator after building a 20-point second half lead against the Thundering Herd. Floyd doesn’t want to see that happen again.
“I would love to see us improve in terms of our floor discipline,” he said. “I would love to see us improve in terms of playing with the lead, if we’re fortunate enough to have one. I would love to see us improve in terms of our communication on the floor late in the game with the lead -- not fouling and putting the other team at the line, guarding the dribble and helping a teammate. I would love to see us take quality shots and pass the ball efficiently at the end of a game. And I would love to see some of the guys that are over there cheering [on the bench] get the opportunity to go out and perform.
“I feel like we have gotten better since we got back from [the Old Spice Classic in] Orlando. I don’t feel like we necessarily got better [versus Marshall]. And I think that’s important for us to do every time we go out there.”