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El Paso, TX — The UTEP Miners will take the court at the Conference USA Championship on Wednesday at 6 p.m., battling either East Carolina or UTSA in their own Don Haskins Center in front of their own fans.
“I think we probably don’t feel any differently than the other 14 teams [in the tournament],” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “We’re approaching it with hope and we’re excited. Our players are practicing well, which I’m sure the other 14 teams are doing. It’s a great time of the year. You’re going to see players playing harder than they have played all year long and coaches coaching harder … it’s the epitome of competition and the best time of the year.”
A five seed has captured the Conference USA Championship twice, with both teams having to win four games in four days to achieve the feat. Marquette turned the trick in 1997 (beating DePaul, Memphis, Cincinnati and Charlotte), and Charlotte did so in 1999 (beating Houston, Southern Miss, Cincinnati and Louisville).
Floyd’s approach to this year’s tournament is very simple. Don’t look ahead.
“Win the first one,” he said. “Don’t worry about the second one. Don’t worry about the fourth one. Worry about them as they come, because there’s nothing more important than the next game.”
UTEP won at East Carolina, 58-47, on Feb. 6 and swept two meetings with travel partner UTSA, winning 81-62 in El Paso on Jan. 25 and 61-51 in San Antonio on March 6.
“I think the thing that helps us is we just played one of the teams last week so it’s fresh in our mind,” Floyd said. “We’ve looked at the video of that game with our guys. They understand what we didn’t do well. At the same time, we have a chance to implement some of East Carolina’s actions with the idea that we may have to see those guys.
“It’s very easy to get caught up in four games in four days. We’re not doing that. We understand that both of these teams are quality teams. UTSA was in a four-point game with us late in the second half. Since we have beaten them, East Carolina has gone on and improved and beaten the likes of Louisiana Tech and Charlotte. None of them are easy, and we understand a few jump shots that go down or don’t go down here and there can really impact everybody’s fortunes.”
With the regular season ending on a Thursday as opposed to a Saturday, and no classes due to spring break, the Miners have had close to a full week to get refreshed.
“I think physically we’re in great shape,” Floyd said. “We have had a jammed thumb by Vince Hunter that has impacted him a little bit the last couple of games. But the fact we will have one more week off before he plays again should help him. Other than that, we’re in good shape. I wish we could come up with some excuses to use, but we don’t have any right now. We’ve got to go play.”
The Miners are 8-2 all-time in conference tournament games in the Haskins Center. Host teams have posted an all-time record of 39-9 in the Conference USA tournament, with nine titles in 18 years.
“I think the teams coming in here are excited about the atmosphere,” Floyd said. “For a lot of them, it’s their first time in El Paso. Our city is going to have its best face forward this week because it’s a big event in a town that loves basketball.”
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