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Fighting to remain on top

Michaela Roman / The Prospector
UTEP has won their last six conference games. They have won 11 of 12 games and are tied with Southern Miss in first place of conference.

For the second time this season, the Miners are heading to the road to play back-to-back away games. The Miners will be in action against East Carolina, followed by Old Dominion on Feb. 6  and Feb. 8 respectively.

“East Carolina is very good,” head coach Tim Floyd said. “They showed early on that they can play and have had a couple of really nice wins early on in the season. The other trip is to Old Dominion. They were leading our league last week, so it will be tough.”

Coming off a comeback win against Rice on Feb. 1, the Miners are now 16-6 and have won six straight conference games after losing their C-USA opener to Charlotte. As well as the Miners are playing; Floyd still sees room for improvement.

“We’re still growing. Being down against Rice, maybe that will serve us well somewhere else down the road. In fact, we learned that you get back into it by defending,” Floyd said. “We held Rice to 29 percent in the second half. We’ll refer to that the next time that we’re down and we’ll have a memory bank with that lineup that was in there competing late.”

The Miners’ first opponent on the road trip is East Carolina. Despite the Pirates unflattering record of 12-10 and 1-6 conference, the Pirates have been in many close games. Early in the season, the Pirates played Duke to a nine-point loss. As of late, the Pirates have been on a slide, but started the season with 11-4 record before conference play. They most recently stunned UAB on the road for their first conference win.

Senior guard Akeem Richmond leads the Pirates, and he happens to be Conference USA’s leading scorer at 18.2 points per game. The match-up between Richmond and Julian Washburn will certainly be something to watch for.

Essentially what this game entails is the second-best defense in the conference (UTEP) against the second-worst offense in conference (ECU). So far this season, the Pirates are averaging a mere 60 points per game, which is almost the exact same amount of points the Miners are giving up this season. The Miners will be the overwhelming favorites for the game and should move to 17-6 and 7-1 in conference play.

The next stop on the road trip for the Miners is Norfolk, Va., to play Old Dominion and the Monarchs have a worse record than East Carolina at 10-12. In January, the Monarchs have played their best basketball, even at one point winning four straight games.

Old Dominion’s three leading scorers are their guards. The three guards combined are averaging nearly 40 points per game, which is more than half of the team average of 65.6 points per game.

What makes this game crucial for the Miners is the Monarch’s defense. The Monarchs have the No. 1-ranked defense in Conference USA at 61.0. Over the course of the Monarchs’ 22 games, they have held five opponents under 60 points and impressively held Florida International to a staggering 36 points two weeks ago.

Saturday’s game will be all about defense. Despite ranking in the bottom half of points per game in Conference USA, the Miners have been clicking on all cylinders, scoring contributions have been coming from everywhere for the Miners.

Even though the Miners’ next two opponents are not very good teams, they are still very important games. One more loss in conference play could seal the Miners fate for winning the Conference USA regular season championship.

“We know it’s tough on the road,” junior guard C.J. Cooper said. “We know it’s tough on the road at East Carolina, we played there last year and it was tough.”

Junior guard Julian Washburn said that the two upcoming games are crucial to keep momentum going to the last strech of the season.

“It’s big. We only have three more home games, so we have to win pretty much every game on the road if we want to win this league,” Washburn said. “So the next two games are going to be tough. East Carolina is never easy and Old Dominion will be tough as well.”

Javier Cortez may be reached at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Javier Cortez, Staff Reporter
Javier Cortez is a staff reporter for The Prospector. He is a senior multimedia journalism major, with a minor in English Rhetoric. Javier was born and raised in El Paso, TX and before coming to UTEP in the summer of 2012, he graduated from Irvin High School, where he was a four-year varsity tennis player, a member of student council and a class officer for his graduating class. He has also worked for the El Paso Diablos as a sports information intern on their media relations team. In his spare time, Javier loves to write columns for the perspectives section in the school newspaper—whether it is sports, pop culture, religion, and society he loves to write about it. To go along with writing, Javier loves reading anything about sports, religion, and non-fiction.
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Fighting to remain on top