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UTEP Knocks Out Knights 76-54

TULSA, Okla. (AP)-Jeremy Williams scored 17 points, Randy Culpepper added 10 and No. 25 UTEP beat Central Florida 76-54 in the Conference USA tournament quarterfinals Thursday night for its 15th straight victory.

The Miners (25-5) used aggressive full-court traps to force ninth-seeded UCF into 12 first-half turnovers, then turned those takeaways into 15 points to build a 28-point lead by halftime. Top-seeded UTEP advanced to face fifth-seeded Tulsa, the tournament’s host, in the semifinals Friday.

The Miners, who moved into the Top 25 two weeks ago for the first time since 1992, are trying to build on their first outright conference title since 1987. Isaac Sosa scored 10 points to lead UCF (15-17), which lost the teams’ only regular-season meeting by 37 points on its home floor.

On a day when the each of the conference’s other higher-seeded teams lost, UTEP took control from the start and led wire-to-wire for the ninth time this season. The Miners blitzed UCF in the backcourt and raced out to a 15-3 lead behind seven early points from Williams.

After A.J. Rompza’s pass sailed out of bounds for his team’s seventh turnover in the first 10 minutes, Golden Knights coach Kirk Speraw screamed to his panicking players, “Hey! Slow down!”

It didn’t work with the Miners forcing the pace. Sosa zipped a crosscourt pass out of bounds while trying to break the press on UCF’s next possession as the Knights turned it over on three of their next four trips.

Culpepper’s fast-break layup off the final turnover in that stretch made it 30-14 with 7:20 left in the first half. UTEP also scored the final nine points of the first half to stretch its lead to 48-20.

The Miners were up by 31 when coach Tony Barbee pulled Culpepper, his leading scorer, and let him sit out for the final 16 minutes. Derrick Caracter, the Louisville transfer who leads the team in rebounding and ranks second in scoring, got the whole second half off.

The rest could come in handy as the Miners face Tulsa, the conference’s preseason favorite that faded down the stretch to finish in fifth. Caracter will go head-to-head against 7-footer Jerome Jordan, who was chosen to the league’s all-defensive team.

The Golden Knights never got closer than 19 in the second half, pulling within 68-49 when Taylor Young finished an 18-4 run with a 3-pointer from the left wing.

Reserve P.J. Gaynor never returned to the UCF bench after a collision with Williams late in the first half.

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