UTEP tries to put recent losses in the past
By Bill Knight / El Paso Times
Article Launched: 02/27/2007 12:00:00 AM MST
UTEP's Miners, a bit embarrassed and very disappointed, went through a brief practice session Monday in the Don Haskins Center.
Thursday night, in that very same arena, the Miners will take on Memphis - the No. 6 team in the nation. This game is coming on the end of a bumpy, bumpy trail - a trail that has seen the Miners tumble to defeat in seven of their past nine games, a trail through North Carolina that saw the Miners become the first Conference USA victim of the season for East Carolina.
UTEP went to Greenville, N.C., on Saturday to face an East Carolina team that was 0-13 in conference play. East Carolina got the 3-point bucket it needed with 8 seconds left on the game clock and knocked down the Miners 79-78.
Thursday night, the Miners will step center court in the Haskins Center against a Memphis team that is 14-0 in Conference USA play.
"That was an embarrassing loss," junior Jeremy Sampson said after Monday's practice. "We can't play like that against Memphis. We will really have to play hard, and we will have to play great defense. Memphis is really, really good. They are such a good shooting team, and they really guard you. They play the same style as us." Miner coach Tony Barbee, of course, played for Memphis coach John Calipari at the University of Massachusetts and then was an assistant under Calipari at Memphis prior to coming to UTEP this fall.
Memphis ranks first in Conference USA in scoring average at 80.4 per game and UTEP is second, averaging 76.3 points a game.
There, though, the similarities end.
Calipari has the Memphis program (24-3) rolling. Barbee still is trying to implement his style and get his players to play that style. He was on the road recruiting Monday and will rejoin the team today.
The Miners (14-14), though, are not worried about styles or even records at this point.
"Saturday's loss was disappointing," junior Marvin Kilgore said. "We are ready to get on with the next game and get that one out of our system. We have to get back to doing what we do. What do we need to improve on? Everything."
To intensify matters, Thursday's game will be home to a national television audience, thanks to ESPN2.
"Sure, it will be exciting to play a ranked team," Sampson said. "But we've got to get over that. It will be on ESPN2, and that's exciting, but we've got to get over that, too. Everybody has to put all that aside, just play our game and come up with a total team effort."
Somehow, someway, the Miners are hoping to find a way to kick that embarrassment and disappointment to the curb and return to a happier brand of basketball.
Bill Knight may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 546-6171.