Riding a wave of momentum following a thrilling 68-67 win at East Carolina over the weekend, the UTEP Miners will try to go 2-for-2 on their weeklong road trip on Wednesday at UAB.
UTEP (11-7, 4-1 C-USA) hasn’t posted consecutive Conference USA road wins since January of 2011. With two road victories this season, the Miners have already doubled their total for the entire 2011-12 campaign.
Now they’ll take on a rebuilding UAB team under the direction of first-year head coach Jerod Haase. Haase played at California and Kansas and was an assistant coach with the Jayhawks (1999-2003) and North Carolina (2003-2012) prior to coming to Birmingham.
“Coach Haase’s system is a little different from [former coach] Mike Davis’ system,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “They both place at the same pace and tempo. It’s a little different offense.
“They are shooting quite a few threes this year. [Junior forward] Jordan Swing is having a great year. They’re probably not as good of a rebounding team as they were a year ago because of the loss of Cameron Moore and Ovie Soko.”
The Blazers (8-12, 0-5 C-USA) have lost six straight contests, most recently on Saturday at Houston (66-61). UAB led as late as 3:29 remaining in the game. Swing scored 20 points in 32 minutes off the bench.
“They are a team that is certainly dangerous,” Floyd said. “Their conference record, when you really analyze these scores, they have been in every game. They have played really, really well. They had a chance to win at Houston, so we know it will be a real challenge.”
Swing (13.6 ppg) and junior forward Rod Rucker (13.8 ppg) are both averaging better than 13 points per game. Rucker is a transfer from Northwest Florida State Community College. Rucker also averages a team-leading 8.4 rebounds. He is 21st in the nation in double-doubles (eight).
“Rucker gets involved in a lot of screen and rolls with Swing,” Floyd said. “The two of them play hand in hand. We’ll have to have a plan that gives us the best opportunity to nullify those two.”
The Blazers are second in Conference USA in free throw percentage (.740) behind SMU (.762). UAB has two of the league’s top foul shooters in junior guard Preston Purifoy (second, .918) and Swing (fifth, .844). UAB is also second in C-USA in assists (16.5 avg.) and third in steals (8.4 avg.). UAB is 12th in the country in assist average.
The Blazers are 7-2 at home this season, but 0-2 in conference action with losses to Memphis (69-53) and East Carolina (91-85).
The Miners traditionally have struggled at Bartow Arena, posting a 1-4 record, though all five games have been decided by nine points or less. That’s typical of a series where the last three games have been determined by two, three and one point. The last two games in Birmingham went to double and triple overtime.
Fasten your seat belts for another barnburner at Bartow.
“I think we’re going to have to defend at a high level to win,” Floyd said. “We’d love to hold them below 40 percent, which we were able to do over at East Carolina. That certainly gives you a chance, regardless of your shooting percentage. We have to play smart in terms of where our shots are coming from.
“We’re going to have to try to get ourselves back at the line. We have to have spirited play on the boards, which we were able to do over at East Carolina. And we have to really get a handle on where Swing is and keep an eye on him.”