HOUSTON, TEXAS - Randy Culpepper and Stefon Jackson both had big second halves as UTEP moved into a tie for third place in Conference USA with a 67-58 win over Rice on Wednesday at Tudor Fieldhouse.
Culpepper and Jackson teamed for 25 of the Miners' 33 points in the second half as they won for the fifth time in six games. UTEP (16-9, 7-4 C-USA) is tied with Houston and Tulsa for third place in the league standings, a game behind UAB (18-8, 8-3) with five to play.
Now the Miners will get their shot at fifth-ranked Memphis (23-3, 11-0), which has the nation's longest winning streak at 17 games and has posted 53 consecutive victories in C-USA play. UTEP will host the Tigers on Saturday at 2 p.m. MST in a nationally televised game on ESPN.
Jackson finished with 23 points and Culpepper added 20 versus Rice, marking the 16th time they have combined for 40 or more points and the seventh time they have both scored 20 points in a game this season.
Arnett Moultrie chipped in with 11 points and nine boards, helping the Miners outrebound the Owls 40-32.
It was a crucial win for the Miners over a Rice team that has been playing good basketball. The Owls (8-17, 3-8) had posted back-to-back home wins over East Carolina and Southern Miss and were coming off an overtime loss at ECU.
Rice entered the game shooting a league-leading 39.1 percent from three point range and averaging 7.1 triples per game, but went just 5-for-17 from outside. Rodney Foster, C-USA's top three point shooter at 45.3 percent coming in, was 1-for-4 from beyond the arc. Trey Stanton led Rice with 20 points and 10 rebounds and Foster added 15 points.
UTEP got off to a cold start shooting the ball and didn't take its first lead until 7:42 remaining in the first half. With the game tied at 26, the Miners closed the period with an 8-2 run to take a 34-28 advantage into the locker room.
UTEP extended its lead to 39-32 four minutes into the second half, but the Owls wouldn't go away. They continued to chip away and actually regained the lead, 50-48, on a basket by Stanton with 7:16 to go. But Culpepper nailed a three 22 seconds later to put the Miners ahead for good.