Texas El-Paso (15-16) at Memphis (23-8)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, March 8, 7:30 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: FedExForum (18,119) -- Memphis, Tennessee. Television: CBSSN. Home Record: UTEP 11-5, Memphis 15-2. Away Record: UTEP 1-10, Memphis 7-4. Neutral Record: UTEP 3-1, Memphis 1-2. Conference Record: UTEP 7-9, Memphis 13-3. Series Record: Memphis leads, 8-4.
GAME NOTES: After escaping with an overtime victory in round one, the eighth- seeded Texas-El Paso Miners now have the task of facing the top seed and host team for the 2012 Conference USA Tournament in the Memphis Tigers tonight in the quarterfinals.
UTEP came back from a first-half deficit to defeat Houston on Wednesday, 67-62, in overtime. The win came on the heels of a three-game losing streak the team endured to close out the regular season. Even with the triumph, the Miners remain one game below .500 overall at 15-16.
Memphis finished the regular-season with a 23-8 record, and its 13-3 league ledger earned it the C-USA regular-season title outright for the fifth time in school history. The Tigers were neck-and-neck with Southern Miss for first place all year long until they pulled away down the stretch, winning four in a row and eight of the last nine outings overall. Earning the No. 1 seed is especially important in C-USA, as Memphis became the host team as a result.
Memphis holds an 8-4 advantage in the all-time series with UTEP, but the Miners handed the Tigers one of their three conference losses and one of their two home setbacks when they claimed a 60-58 decision on Feb. 18 at FedExForum.
After spending most of the game battling back and forth, UTEP finally bested Houston in overtime thanks in part to 45.3 percent shooting effort, while they allowed the Cougars just a .382 field goal percentage. The Miners also held a significant advantage at the foul line, going 16-of-24, while Houston shot a meager 6-of-15 from the stripe. Gabriel McCulley paced the squad with 18 points and eight rebounds. John Bohannon added 16 points, Michael Perez tallied 14, and Julian Washburn chipped in 10 in the victory. The balanced attack was no rare feat for the Miners, as Washburn, McCulley, Bohannon and Perez all average between 11.0 and 11.5 ppg. On the whole however, UTEP's scoring attack has been surprisingly ineffective, ranking 10th in the conference with an average of only 63.6 ppg.
Memphis boasts a top-flight offensive attack, ranking first in the conference in scoring offense (75.1 ppg), scoring margin (+10.9) and field goal percentage (.495), while sitting second in free-throw percentage (.713) and three-point field goal percentage (.371). It also has the defensive presence to support its potent scoring attack, ranking first in the league in field goal percentage defense (.388). Much of the Tigers' success can be attributed to Conference USA Player of the Year Will Barton, who in his sophomore season led the league in scoring at 18.7 ppg while shooting a fantastic 52.5 percent from the field. Barton is far from a one-trick pony, as he ranks sixth in rebounding (8.1 rpg) and fourth in steals (1.5 spg). Tarik Black (10.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg) and Joe Jackson (10.7 ppg, 3.8 apg) are Barton's main safety valves on offense, with Black ranking fifth nationally in field goal percentage (.682).
UTEP has proven this season that it can come into Memphis and win, and it has some momentum built up from Wednesday's game. But as the host team, the Tigers will be amped and ready to play from the opening tip.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Memphis 78, Texas-El Paso 67
03/08 10:33:17 ET