Tournament disappointment

Javier Cortez, Staff Reporter

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My expectation for the Conference USA basketball tournament, like most, was based on the performance of UTEP’s men and women’s basketball teams. At the end of the day, my expectations were not met, not even the slightest.

Going into the tournament, the men had a harder road to the final. They didn’t get a double bye, so they had to play a second-round game against East Carolina. They easily handled the Pirates, and junior guard Julian Washburn had one of his best games of the season.

In the next round, they had the tall task of playing the Southern Miss Golden Eagles, who beat the Miners two weeks earlier in Hattiesburg, Miss. The Miners lost what was a disappointing game, they fought back at the end like they always do, but their overall performance was tough to watch.

Southern Miss trounced the Miners on the offensive boards. In total the Miners were out-rebounded 45-28, and gave up 20 offensive rebounds. The smaller, more aggressive Southern Miss bullied UTEP all game long.

Rebounding was only part of the problem for the Miners, it was a horrendous shooting night for UTEP. The Miners simply could not break the Southern Miss zone and settled for outside shots all night long. The Miners were a dismal three for 22 from the 3-point line.

Following the men were the women. Unlike the men, the women’s team had a legitimate chance of winning the entire tournament. After a shaky game against Louisiana Tech in the quarterfinals, the women had to also go through Southern Miss.

Once again it was another disappointing game. UTEP was in foul trouble all day long, and sophomore guard Jenzel Nash scored one basket. Kayla Thornton was the one shining light with 21 points, but the Miners simply were not good.

The biggest disappointment of the tournament was the scheduling of the UTEP men and women playing one hour apart from each other. The women tipped off at 5, followed by the men at 6. You had people rushing back and forth from Memorial Gym and the Haskins Center to see both teams play.

Why anyone would schedule the only two teams that are going to attract an actual crowd and bring in revenue at the same time is beyond me. I would be shocked if you told me that this year’s tournament turned a profit, because for most of the five days no one showed up, and no one really cared.

Once the UTEP men and women were eliminated from the tournament, the air was sucked out of the building. The excitement was gone and you could tell that the rest of the tournament would be a downer. The other semifinal games had a low attendance, but things got really sad on the day of the finals.

The night before Saturday’s championship games, it was announced that the women’s game would be free admission and the men’s game would be free to all military, teachers and students.

The last-ditch effort to get fans to come see the championship games did not work. Only 4,870 people attended the men’s championship game in the morning, and the women’s championship game at night brought in 4,883 people.

Both games combined couldn’t match the maximum capacity of the Don Haskins Center. Once again, El Pasoans displayed the lack of support they show at most any event.

The crazy thing is the tournament might return next year. It seems that El Paso—a city that has 25 percent of its residents below the poverty line—according to census data—is a hotter commodity than Charlotte, N.C. or New Orleans, La.

Javier Cortez may be reached at [email protected]

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