UTEP will try to get reacquainted with its own arena in the next couple of days before playing Tulsa on Saturday night in the Don Haskins Center.
The Miners will be playing just their third game on their home court since Dec. 20. UTEP managed Conference USA road wins at SMU and East Carolina but stumbled Wednesday night in Birmingham against UAB.
UTEP has played well at times, but the young team—with six sophomores and two freshmen in the regular rotation—seems to be struggling to find its identity.
Senior Stefon Jackson and sophomore Randy Culpepper are averaging 23.3 and 19.5 points per game, respectively. Jackson leads Conference USA in scoring and is eighth in the nation, while Culpepper is fourth in the conference and 34th in the nation. But no other Miner is averaging more than 8.3 points a game.
"It can't just always be the Randy and Stefon Show," UTEP coach Tony Barbee said.
When the Miners get two more players in double figures, they find the win column.
Uab 78, Utep 73: UAB made 17 of 18 free throws in the second half to thwart any UTEP comeback effort Wednesday night in Birmingham.
UTEP (11-7, 2-2 Conference USA) was led by Randy Culpepper with 26 points and Stefon Jackson with 24. No other Miner scored in double figures.
UAB (12-7, 2-2) ran away to a 9-0 lead, but the Miners narrowed the gap to 36-35 at the half. UTEP led four times in the second half but never by more than a single point.
In addition to the deadly Blazers foul shooting (they were 21 of 24 for the game), 5-foot-8 point guard Aaron Johnson repeatedly broke down the Miners perimeter defense, penetrating and dishing off for dunks and layups.
• Call them the dynamic duo or whatever catchy name you'd like to find, but you'll have to call the UTEP tandem of Stefon Jackson and Randy Culpepper two of the best scorers in Conference USA if you want to be correct.
The high-scoring duo ranked second and third in the league in scoring behind Houston's Kelvin Lewis in league play through Jan. 17.
Jackson, the school's all-time leading scorer, was averaging 22.7 points per game in league play, while Culpepper, a sophomore, was scoring 23.0 points per game in league play.
The amazing thing is that Culpepper is doing his damage as a reserve, playing starter's minutes off the bench for the Miners. It's a case of not putting all the cards on the table at the beginning for coach Tony Barbee, who is finding success despite not starting the second-leading scorer in the league.
Things may change as the season wears on, but for now, the tandem is scoring at a high rate just the way they are.
• The Miners have been the most potent offense in the league in conference play, averaging 82.7 points per game against league opponents through Jan. 17.
• An area of concern for coach Tony Barbee has to be the glass, where the Miners are getting outrebounded by 4.3 rebounds per game in conference play.
Quote To Note: "It's no secret that the better players and teams are able to go on the road and win these games. Getting two wins on the road to start conference play is big. I was happy that our guys bounced back from a tough home loss to Houston."—Coach Tony Barbee after UTEP's Jan. 17 victory over East Carolina.
Strategy And Personnel
The Miners need to make a concerted effort to get to the glass, as they're one of the worst teams on the boards in league play. Coach Tony Barbee may need to try to send more players to the defensive boards to stop teams from getting offensive putbacks. That may slow down the Miners' running game, but it could pay big dividends down the road when UTEP plays against some of the bigger teams in the league like Memphis and Tulsa.
Player Rotation: Usual starters—PG Julyan Stone, SG Stefon Jackson, G/F Gabriel McCulley, F Arnett Moultrie, C Wayne Portalatin. Key subs—G/F Jason Jones, G Randy Culpepper, C Kareem Cooper.
UTEP 74, SMU 68
Houston 94, UTEP 86
UTEP 88, East Carolina 67
UAB 78, UTEP 73
at Houston, Wednesday, Jan. 28
vs. Southern Miss, Saturday, Jan. 31
In Focus: UTEP gets a big test when it takes on Tulsa at home on Jan. 24. The Miners will have a week to prepare for Golden Hurricane big man Jerome Jordan, who leads the league in rebounding and is one of the better players once he gets the ball in the paint. The Miners will need to sag down defensively and help out on Jordan because he's impossible to stop one-on-one.
• G Stefon Jackson, already UTEP's all-time leading scorer, moved into third place on the all-time Conference USA list with 1,968 points. Jackson, who is only 39 points off the C-USA mark, has done it by getting to the free-throw line more often and by becoming a better foul shooter each year. Jackson went into Wednesday's game at UAB making 82.7 percent at the line. He had attempted the second-most free throws in the nation (143 of 173). He made 10 of 10 from the line Wednesday.
• G Julyan Stone, a 6-foot-6 sophomore, led all freshmen in the nation in assist-to-turnover margin last year. He has continued to make good decisions and ranks 18th in the nation in that category. Stone, who scored nine points against UAB, is trying to become more of an offensive threat. But he continues to do an excellent job getting the ball to his teammates, especially Jackson and Randy Culpepper.
• Kareem Cooper, Claude Britten and Wayne Portalatin—UTEP's three-headed post—combined for only four points Wednesday night. The 7-foot Cooper, 6-11 Britten and 6-10 Portalatin were counted on to come up big at UAB since the Blazers' biggest man is 6-8. However, UTEP was unable to capitalize on the size advantage.