Battle Of I-10 Round Two; UTEP Seeks Revenge In El Paso
After shaking off a feisty Colorado State team in the second half of UTEP’s 82-74 win, the Miners look ahead to the second and final matchup of the season with the hated New Mexico State Aggies this Saturday night in the Don Haskins Center.
In the first matchup in Las Cruces, the Aggies took care of the Miners 86-73 in a physical battle highlighted by 81 free throw attempts (thank you, new rules). While the benefit of playing at home played a role in the NMSU win, the Miners didn’t do themselves any favors on the defensive end allowing the Aggies to shoot 57% from the field and a nine point difference in free throw disparity. Add in the 37-23 rebounding advantage by NMSU and most times those statistics lead to a UTEP loss.
While UTEP will need to be more physical with the Aggies’ frontcourt, first on the list will be slowing down Daniel Mullings. The Aggies star guard didn’t attempt a single perimeter shot during his 26-point performance making 9 of 14 shots and took advantage of the new hand checking rules getting to the line 13 times (converting eight freebies).
Slowing down Mullings is important, but the Aggies have plenty of depth and talent on their squad and I haven’t even mentioned the immovable paint presecence of Sim Bhullar. Bhullar had a quiet 11 points and six rebounds; however, it’s what the box score doesn’t say which makes the 7-foot 5 inch giant much more dangerous as he makes it extremely difficult for the UTEP offense to operate especially in the paint. There were numerous times that Bhullar altered shots or filled in space which prevented the Miner offense to execute at a high level.
The Miners will need a complete game on both ends of the court to pull off this rivalry win.
UTEP fans may not want to hear it, but this NMSU basketball team is extremely talented and will most likely punch another ticket to the NCAA tournament come March. The Aggies could easily come into the DON and leave El Paso with a win if the Miners don’t raise their level of play.
Fortunately for Coach Tim Floyd and the Miners the script is flipped as UTEP will play in front of the hometown fans with the high likelihood of some home cooking from the officials this time around.
Should be an exciting battle this weekend and hopefully the UTEP fans can eclipse the 10,000 fan mark (FYI-NMSU had 10,019) for the first time this year.