The UTEP basketball team will likely play before its largest home crowd of the season on Tuesday when the 25th-ranked Memphis Tigers return to the Haskins Center. Tip-off is at 7 p.m.
Plenty of seats are available, but UTEP at minimum should be looking at its first audience of over 10,000 fans in “The Don” since the 2010-11 season. The University Ticket Center number is 747-5234.
“I think anytime you’re playing a ranked team, everybody gets energized,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “Memphis, though, has dealt with this on a nightly basis every time they go on the road. They get everybody’s best shot. Up until last week, they were the only undefeated team in the country on the road. Our place will be jacked up for it and I know our players will be, and I hope we’ll play well.”
The Tigers (25-4, 14-0 C-USA) own a 21-game winning streak versus C-USA opponents (includes tournament games) since losing at home to UTEP, 60-58, on Feb. 18, 2012.
Memphis ranks fourth nationally in blocked shots (6.5 avg.), seventh in assists (16.9 avg.), 15th in field goal percentage (.479) and 17th in steals (9.0 avg.). The Tigers lead C-USA in seven statistical cat¬egories for league games only -- scoring (77.5 ppg), scoring margin (+13.6 ppg), field goal per¬centage (.490), field goal percentage defense (.393), blocks (7.1 avg.), assists (18.5 apg) and assist/turnover ratio (1.2).
“I think the country has been sleeping on them,” Floyd said. “They had a rough outing over at Xavier. But I thought, in the games they played against Southern Miss, that I was looking at the best team in the country just based on their energy, the way they shared the ball and moved the ball, how they were guarding and forcing turnovers, and their dominance on the glass. It’s a veteran team with juniors and seniors now and they’re playing at a high level.”
Seven Tigers average better than seven points per game led by junior guard Joe Jackson (13.9 ppg). Sophomore forward/guard Adonis Thomas av¬erages 11.7 ppg and junior guard Geron Johnson 10.4 ppg. Senior forward/guard D.J. Stephens is the team’s leading rebounder with a 6.8 average.
The Miners have held five straight opponents under 60 points for the first time since the 1991-92 season. They’ll have to put together another bang-up job of defensive work to stay with the Tigers, who are 8-1 on the road this season. They’ll also have to find a way to counter Memphis’ size and strength on the interior.
“Rebounding is always a key when you play against these guys,” Floyd said. “Tarik Black, [Shaq] Goodwin, Stephens, Adonis Thomas are some of the more physical players in the league. I told our staff, I’m going to do something this year that I’ve never done. I’m going to vote all five Memphis players for first team all-league. That’s really what I believe. I don’t think there is a guy in our league that’s deserving of saying I could go in there and start on Memphis’ team right now.”
Floyd doesn’t think his team will be in awe of the Tigers after tangling with the likes of Arizona, Oklahoma, UNLV, Oregon and Colorado State in the first two months of the season.
“We played [against] some of the better teams in the United States in our pre-conference schedule,” he said. “Unfortunately we don’t have many skins to show for it. So this will be a great opportunity.”
The Miners will honor three seniors – Malcolm Moore, Jacques Streeter and Konner Tucker – prior to their home finale on Tuesday. It’s also the Noche Latina game, so UTEP players will wear commemorative Mineros jerseys.
UTEP (16-12, 9-5 C-USA) can clinch the number three seed in next week’s Conference USA Tournament with a win in either of its last two games. The Miners will play at SMU on Saturday at 1 p.m.
“It certainly is an incentive,” Floyd said. “Just to win a game would be important, but to be able to beat a top-20 team in Memphis would also be important from a confidence standpoint.
“I think the most significant thing is you have so much respect for Memphis that you know if you do beat them and you’re fortunate enough to win your first two games [in the conference tournament], that you would not have to see them until the championship round. A loss may mean that you’re going to have to see them in the second round. We’d much prefer to allow somebody else to have the opportunity to knock them off in the first two rounds.”