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After Miner Gambling Losses, Is UTEP A Better Team?

Vince Hunter slams the ball on his second breakaway dunk in the first half.
–Duke Keith

…And then Tim Floyd cracked a smile and made jokes at Bob Stull’s expense.

Yes, this story starts in the middle. That’s because the first part you’ve heard, seen and read already. The part about UTEP’s domination of their I-10 rivals from UTSA in an 81-62 win and the four-game win streak. The part about Tim Floyd celebrating his 400th career victory.

You probably know that Vince Hunter continues to reach up and pick fruit that was considered beyond his grasp as a freshman. Hunter’s 16 points came mostly from plays close to the bucket as UTEP dominated the Roadrunners, outscoring UTSA, 42-22, in the paint.

Hunter’s two breakaway dunks late in the first half helped the Miners break away from the Roadrunners, who led early in the game, in part because they were shooting over 60-percent from the field.

By now you know that didn’t last.

You may have heard that Julian Washburn continued a string of strong defensive performances by shutting down UTSA’s second-leading scorer Devon Agusi, who scores an average of 11.7 points per game but could only manage six against Washburn.

Washburn followed that up Saturday with some stellar offensive numbers, too, scoring a game-high 19 points, including shooting 3-of-4 from behind the three-point line.

And now we’re noticing something we might not have heard or read or seen. Something we certainly didn’t expect. A team chemistry that lost its main ingredients is suddenly more potent than it was before.

After booting leading scorer McKenzie Moore, plus guards Jalen Ragland and Justin Crosgile off the team for gambling on football games, UTEP was supposed to be dead in the water. Now — poof! — it’s a potent combination of a big-man offense Floyd credits to assistant coach Phil Johnson, selfless play among scholarship athletes and walk-ons, and it’s on that four-game win streak.

The head coach has certainly noticed.

“Those things are real encouraging right now,” said Floyd, thinking on Saturday’s win. “Cedric (Lang) deferred, told me he thought it would help Matt (Wilms) if (Cedric) came off the bench and let Matt start because he’s a freshman and that was important to him.

“You see a play with Hooper Vint late where he gets the ball off the board. You know, he hadn’t scored much himself, he hadn’t played much. Hadn’t played in three games. But he wants (walk-on) Tyler (Tafoya) to score so he kicks it back out versus shooting it.”

Floyd then made clear he sees a real difference between his team at the beginning of the season — read: with McKenzie Moore — and his team now.

“Basically there are two kinds of players, those with agendas and those without, and we prefer to have those without. Those are the guys who will do the hard things and that’s what we’re doing right now.

“There are no agendas right now other than winning.”

Floyd mentioned he was very happy to get his walk-ons some extended playing time, including former Burges standout and C-USA All-Freshman running back Aaron Jones, who ran the point for a good seven minutes.

He used a question about Jones to razz his boss, UTEP Director of Athletics (and former head football coach) Bob Stull, who was at the press conference.

“When you go from playing in front of 400 people at a high school game and you’ve been playing football, you don’t have basketball legs…Y’know, basketball’s a much more demanding sport than football because you don’t get to huddle for 35 seconds,” said Floyd to gathering laughter. “You have to react, you have to actually think and play on your own. Those things are all new to him right now.”

Then Tim Floyd flashed a smile, which would have been an anomaly way back at the beginning of the month.

But this is where we started, here in the middle. Kind of like UTEP’s basketball season.

FOLLOW DUKE KEITH ON TWITTER AND FACEBOOK

 

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