Having already clinched the no. 3 seed in next week’s Conference USA Championship, the UTEP Miners will wrap up the regular season on Saturday at SMU, shooting for their third win in four games.
In addition to building momentum for the league tournament, UTEP (16-13, 9-6 C-USA) has a chance to square its C-USA road mark at 4-4 while posting 10 or more conference victories for the fourth time in five years.
Due to renovations being performed on Moody Coliseum, Saturday’s game will be played at the 7,000-seat Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas with a tip-off of 1 p.m. MT. UTEP is wrapping up the regular season at SMU for the third consecutive year. In 2011, the Miners beat the Mustangs 59-56, and last year they lost to SMU 57-48.
SMU won at Tulsa, 71-65, on Wednesday night, evening its overall mark at 15-15. The Mustangs are 5-10 in Conference USA play but have been highly competitive in their first year under Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown. Eight of their 10 conference losses have come by nine points or less.
“They had that win against Tulsa, something we couldn’t do,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “They are playing multiple defenses and playing them very well. They are consistently holding people to numbers below what they’re accustomed to scoring.”
SMU is 7-6 at home this season, including 2-5 versus C-USA opponents with narrow losses to Tulsa (48-47), Southern Miss (74-70), Houston (84-80 in OT), Memphis (60-52) and East Carolina (72-69).
Sophomore guard Jalen Jones and junior guard Nick Russell are tied for the team scoring lead (14.3 ppg). Jones is the team leader in rebounding with 7.7 per game. Russell has scored in double figures in all 15 C-USA games, with a high of 22 points versus Houston on Feb. 2.
“Nick Russell has shot the ball 413 times, more than anybody on the team, which means he’s a focal point of what they’re trying to do,” Floyd said. “We had issues the last time we played them with matchups in terms of trying to find people that could guard the dribble. Shawn Williams had a game that was better than most games he has had this year at our place [16 points]. It was one of the few games where Julian Washburn’s man, Jalen Jones, scored at his average.”
SMU is first in Conference USA in free throw percentage (.750) and field goal percentage defense (.390), and third in scoring defense (62.6 ppg).
“They run a lot of good stuff, a lot of NBA actions,” Floyd said. “It’s apparent to me that coach Brown’s guys are learning how to play the game and getting better as the season progresses.”
The Conference USA Tournament bracket will be released on Saturday night following a full slate of games. UAB plays at Memphis, Marshall is at East Carolina, Tulsa is at Rice, UCF is at Southern Miss and Houston is at Tulane on Saturday with the tournament’s five through 10 seeds still up in the air.