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Tuesday, October 3, 2023


Men’s basketball hopes to trump Miners

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Houston’s road to redemption starts in Memphis today against one of the teams that sabotaged its NCAA Tournament plans in the final two weeks of the season.

University of Texas-El Paso earned a shot to play the Cougars for the third time this season, after running through Southern Methodist 71-49 Wednesday in the first round of the Conference USA Tournament. The Cougars and Miners split the regular-season series with UTEP taking the final game of the season in a six-point nail-biter.

UTEP head coach Tony Barbee said Houston’s style of offense makes it one of the more dangerous teams in the conference, but it’s a style that fits a defensive approach.

"It’s no question that Houston is a very well-coached team. Coach Penders does great job," Barbee said. "They have a multitude of guys who can score in a lot of different ways.

"And then you have a team that almost 50 percent of their shots are 3-point attempts. The reason we’ve had some success against Houston defensively is we don’t gamble. We stay in front, and we make every shot they take a contested and a hard one. If we can rebound the ball the way we did in El Paso we have a chance."

The Cougars know they need to make it to the conference championship and pull an upset over projected opponent and No. 1 seed Memphis to safely secure a seeding in the NCAA Tournament, but they are not looking ahead of any team, including UTEP.

"We’re focusing on one game at a time. That’s all we can do," senior point guard Lanny Smith said. "We can’t look ahead to anybody. It sounds cliched, but that’s what you have to do in a tournament like this. In the position that we’re in, that’s all we can do is take it one game at a time."

Senior guard and team-leading scorer Robert "Fluff" McKiver agrees. He’s definitely not willing to take lightly a team that took them down to the wire in the last game of the regular season and came away with the win.

"We have to play each game, every day, hard and hopefully we can advance game to game. I think that’s pretty much our focus. It sounds boring, but that’s how you have to focus in tournaments like this. We have to take it one game at a time."

Though he’s not willing to take any games for granted in the tournament, McKiver knows he and his teammates have a chance to come out as huge winners. He said he’s been watching the other conference tournaments and upsets, which have instilled a sense of hope in him.

"It’s definitely motivation," McKiver said. "We’ve been seeing it on TV. Like (Tuesday) night, we saw Western Kentucky (win the Sun Belt after beating both the No. 2 and 3 seeds in the tournament). It’s definitely motivating, but we can’t really worry about that."

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