UTEP looks to bounce back at Western Kentucky Saturday
EL PASO, Texas - The UTEP men’s basketball team (11-11, 4-7 C-USA) will vie to wrap up a three-game roadswing on a high note when it plays at WKU (12-11, 4-8 C-USA) at 2 p.m. MT/3 p.m. CT Saturday.
Mattress Firm is the Presenting Sponsor of UTEP Men’s Basketball.
This is the first of two meetings on the season between the foes, with the Hilltoppers heading to El Paso on March 2.
It also is the initial match-up between the programs in three years and the first in Bowling Green, Ky., in four seasons.
The Miners are aiming to halt a three-game losing skid, most recently falling at Middle Tennessee, 84-72, on Feb. 2.
UTEP trailed by 11 with six minutes to play in the contest before a big run got it within two with 3:36 left, but the Blue Raiders tallied the final 10 points in the game to stave off the rally.
WKU halted a five-tilt losing streak with an 81-74 triumph against UTSA on Feb. 2.
The game at WKU wraps up a brutal stretch of playing three straight and five of seven on the road.
The Hilltoppers are 6-4 at home (2-4 C-USA), averaging just shy of 4,000 (3,940) fans per game.
UTEP is 1-8 on the road (1-5 C-USA), but it has had some close calls in league action.
UTEP dropped its first three league road games by a combined nine points, and either led or was within two points in the final minute of regulation in each of those games.
The Miners broke through by rallying from 13 down to emerge victorious, 60-58, at Charlotte on Jan. 16.
At North Texas on Jan. 28, the Miners fought from down nine to get within one with 10 minutes left before the Mean Green pulled away for a 10-point triumph.
It was a similar story at MT, as UTEP whittled an 11-point deficit down to two only to have the Blue Raiders use a late run to hold on.
Jon Teicher (42nd year) will be on the call on “The Home of UTEP Basketball” 600 ESPN El Paso.
It will also be streamed nationally on Stadium, with Chris Vosters (PxP) on the call.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
Saturday’s contest wraps up a demanding stretch of five of seven on the road, which includes three straight away from home.
It marks the second straight season that the Orange and Blue will have had three consecutive league road games.
Last year the Miners had three conference contests in the span of five days, something they hadn’t done since the 1983-84 campaign.
SERIES HISTORY: WKU LEADS, 6-1
WKU leads the series, 6-1, including 3-0 when playing at home. Saturday’s match-up will be the first between the programs since the 2019-20 season, and the initial in Bowling Green since ‘18-19.
The Hilltoppers have claimed the past four meetings, with UTEP’s lone victory in the series coming in OT, 93-89, at the Don Haskins Center in the game commemorating the 50-year celebration of the Miners winning the 1966 NCAA Championship over Kentucky, 72-65.
All but one of the match-ups between the programs have occurred since WKU joined C-USA, with two of those going to overtime.
This year will mark the first time the foes will have a home-and-home series, with the Toppers making the return visit to El Paso on March 2.
GET TO KNOW WKU
WKU is 12-11 on the year, including 4-8 in C-USA play, after defeating UTSA, 81-74, to snap a five-game losing skid on Feb. 2.
The 81 points were the most WKU had scored in a league contest this year.
WKU had high aspirations for the season, being picked second in the league’s preseason poll (one first-place vote) and Dayvion McKnight, Emmanuel Akot and Jamarion Sharp all landing to the Preseason All C-USA team.
It was living up to that early by going 8-3 in nonconference play.
After a 3-3 start to league action, WKU dropped five straight to slip to 3-8 before getting back on track last time out.
McKnight leads the way offensively with 16.6 points per game (fifth C-USA). Akot (10.6 ppg) and Jairus Hamilton (10.3 ppg) are also consistent scorers for WKU, which accounts for 73.1 points per game (fifth C-USA).
Luke Frampton was putting up 9.5 ppg before going down with a season-ending injury.
At the other end of the court, the 7-5 Sharp is an imposing figure. He leads the nation in both total blocks (91) and blocks per game (4.1).
His efforts allow WKU to pace C-USA in blocks per game (5.6-11th NCAA). Sharp also tops the team with 7.2 rebounds per game (fifth C-USA).
McKnight also makes things difficult for the opposition with 1.8 steals per game (seventh C-USA/85th NCAA).
WKU guards it well, with Sharp’s presence helping it hold foes to 40.9 percent (third C-USA/53rd NCAA).
Even more impressive is the fact the Toppers only commit 15.3 fouls per game (third C-USA/56th NCAA).
They also shoot the 3-point shot well, connecting on 37.2 percent to lead the league and rate 40th in the nation.
Another strength is ball security, with WKU making only 11.0 turnovers per game to top C-USA and rate 32nd in the country.
They have struggled to rebound (-3.0 margin-10th C-USA/304th NCAA), in addition to guarding the three (35.2 3-point defense-eighth C-USA/273rd NCAA).
Notable university alumni include Romeo Crennel (former head coach of the Cleveland Browns & KC Chiefs), the late Duncan Hines (pioneer of restaurant ratings for travelers) and the late Cordell Hull (Secretary of State under FDR