Miners prepare for Washington State Sunday

December 12, 2015

On the road for the second time this season, the Miners look to snap their two game losing streak against the Washington State Cougars on Sunday, Dec. 13, in the Beasley Coliseum.

The Miners (5-2) are coming off an eight-day final exam break. Head coach Tim Floyd and his team are no strangers to this Pac-12 bunch. This is the third of four meetings the Miners have with the Cougars, and will finish their four-game series with them next season in the Don Haskins.

UTEP has won the last three meetings against the Washington State Cougars, however, storylines for the respective teams are different this season. Many newcomers on the Miners’ roster have not seen the likes of Washington State before.

Coming off a two game losing streak to New Mexico State and UT Arlington, respectively, head coach Tim Floyd used the two losses as a learning experience for his young team.

“We try to take everything out of games and we’re a work in progress,” Floyd said. “We’re finding out a lot about our team, some good, some not so good.”

Against rivals New Mexico State, the Miners could not get a grip during the second half. They trailed for the first time this season by 10 or more points and were handed their first loss, 73-59. Hosting UT Arlington was a challenge for the squad, and they saw similar results. The two teams were neck-and-neck, but two 10-point runs from UTA in the second half resulted in a 76-62 victory for the Mavericks.

In the past three games, UTEP has been out-rebounded, 164-108, and averaged 60.5 points in the last two games. Prior to the previous pair of games, the Miners had not scored less than 72 points in a game.

Even though the Miners have won back-to-back meetings against the Cougars, Tim Floyd will not take Washington State, now coached under Ernie Kent, lightly.

“They play a lot like we did last year,” Floyd said. “We’ve lost our size and that will present a problem for us.”

Washington State (5-2) has had a start much like UTEP had. They rolled with a 4-0 start, but since have lost two out of their last three games, featuring losses to Gonzaga and Idaho.

The Cougars have three towers on their team, with center Conor Clifford, who stands at 7-foot-0, Valentine Izundu, fixed at 6-foot-10, and Josh Hawkinson, a 6-foot-10 forward. Previously in the Idaho game, Hawkinson posted his fourth double-double of the season, totaling 16 points and 12 boards. Hawkinson leads the team, averaging 16.3 points and 9.5 rebounds with a .597 field goal percentage. He is nearly perfect on the free throw line, averaging .875 percent from the charity stripe. Izundu, who transferred from Houston, has blocked 24 shots on the season.

Washington State also brings two threats at the guard position with Ike Iroegbu and Que Johnson. Both aid the team in scoring, averaging 13.4 points per game and 11.0 ppg, respectively. Johnson has had success against the Miners, averaging 15.5 points per game and 7.5 rebounds per game, during the last two meetings between schools.

“We have [beaten them], but it’s a new coach [Ernie Kent] who’s now in his second year with a lot of returners,” Floyd said. “They were the young group a year ago. They’re older now than we are.”

A problem that presents itself for the Miners is still the subject of rebounding. With Brodricks Jones and Matt Willms sidelined due to injuries, head coach Tim Floyd is left with minimal options for rebounding. Terry Winn continues to start at the forward position, while Jake Flaggert, Paul Thomas and Christian Romine have been known for filling the spot off the bench.

“We have to crash the boards with five [players],” Hooper Vint said. “Other teams are really crashing and I have to do a better job personally of rebounding more. I’m going to focus on that in the next game.”

Vint, who leads the team with 48 boards, will more than likely be playing a substantial amount of minutes, being that the squad does not have much height in that position available. Floyd addressed the problem as a factor for the remainder of the season.

“We’re going to deal with [sizing up in the post] all year long,” Floyd said. “We’re going to have to rebound it with five guys and there are times we have to give teams different looks on defense, not your standard man-to-man coverage.”

The Miners tip off against the Cougars at 4 p.m. MT. The game will be televised on the Pac-12 Network.

Adrian Broaddus may be reached at [email protected]

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