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Houston (15-14) vs. Texas-El Paso (14-16)



The Sports Network

DATE & TIME: Wednesday, March 7, 7:30 p.m. (ET)

FACTS & STATS: Site: FedEx Forum (18,119) -- Memphis, Tennessee. Television: CSS. Home Record: Houston 13-5, UTEP 11-5. Away Record: Houston 1-8, UTEP 1-10. Neutral Record: Houston 1-1, UTEP 2-1. Conference Record: Houston 7-9, UTEP 7-9. Series Record: Texas El-Paso leads, 12-9.

GAME NOTES: The ninth-seeded Houston Cougars and the eighth-seeded Texas-El Paso Miners square off in the first round of the 2012 Conference USA Tournament tonight, with the winner advancing to play top-seeded and tournament hosts Memphis in the quarterfinals.

Houston enters the postseason with some momentum, having won four of its last five games, including a thrilling come-from-behind victory (76-75) over cross- town rival Rice in the regular-season finale. The recent surge lifted the Cougars to a 15-14 overall record and a 7-9 mark in C-USA, tying them with UTEP for eighth place, although the Miners earned the higher seed due to their win over Memphis earlier this season.

UTEP finished the regular season with the same 7-9 league ledger as Houston, but is heading in the opposite direction as the Cougars right now. After going on a season-high four-game win streak, the Miners faltered down the stretch by losing their last three regular-season games, two a which they scored fewer than 50 points. Their overall record sits at 14-16, one of just three C-USA teams with a losing mark at the moment.

UTEP leads the all-time series with Houston, 12-9, and the two teams split the season series this year, with each winning on its home floor.

Houston possesses one of the conference's most potent offenses, ranking second in both scoring (72.1 ppg) and field goal percentage (.467). It also knocked down 36.3 percent of its three-point tries, fourth-best in the league, but with all the offensive success came struggles at the defensive end, as the team ranked last in C-USA in scoring defense (71.7 ppg). The Cougars are paced by standout forward Jonathon Simmons, who ranks ninth in the conference in scoring with 14.9 ppg and shoots an impressive 52.2 percent from the floor. Alandise Harris (12.9 ppg), Joseph Young (11.4 ppg) and TaShawn Thomas (10.6 ppg) all add to a balanced attack. Thomas is also one of the league's most imposing forces in the paint, ranking seventh in rebounding (8.1 rpg), second in blocks (2.2 bpg) and fourth in field goal percentage (.576). Houston also has a difficult time taking care of the ball, laying claim to a league-worst -2.86 turnover margin.

Even though UTEP ranks third in C-USA in field goal percentage (.462), it is 10th in scoring offense (63.6 ppg). Part of the reason can be explained by its less-than-stellar effort on the glass (-0.7 rebounding margin), and its lax approach to taking care of the ball (-0.87 turnover margin). The Miners are led by a quartet of players all of whom come within a half point of each another in scoring average, paced by freshman Julian Washington (11.5 ppg). Gabriel McCulley (11.2), John Bohannon (11.2) and Michael Perez (11.0) can all do damage on any given night. Bohannon also grabs a team-high 7.3 rpg, and Jacques Streeter does a good job making sure all the scorers are happy, ranking second in C-USA in assists with 4.6 per contest. UTEP's defense has been somewhat of a saving grace this season, as it allows just 63.1 ppg on average.

Both teams certainly have their flaws, but with the Cougars playing their best basketball of late and with the Miners struggling at the worst possible time, expect UH to move to the next round.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Houston 76, Texas-El Paso 69

03/07 10:34:47 ET