Can UTEP Stack Up With the Likes of Arizona on Wednesday?
UTEP men’s basketball (1-1) will face a tough threat early into their season, as they square off against Pac-12 affiliate Arizona (2-0) on Wednesday, Nov. 14 at the McKale Center.
For first-year head coach Rodney Terry and the young Miners squad, the road trip is an opportunity to grow and progress against a well-regarded program.
"Every game is a big game for us," Terry said. "It's the next game on our schedule and we're excited about the challenge of going down there and playing a national power in Arizona and have a lot of respect for Sean (Miller) and what he's been able to do there. One of the toughest places to play in our region."
The Miners are coming off a loss to NMSU last Friday (96-69) after a surging first half start against the Aggies. They beat out UT Permian Basin (90-63) to secure their first win.
This week though, the Miners added back a missing piece to their squad in freshman guard Nigel Hawkins, who has been out with a hand injury.
"He's another young guard that will get a chance to develop at a really high level, play significant minutes," Terry said. "He's a guy that plays with good poise, a guy that can score the basketball also a guy that will help on defense."
"We'll take any bodies," Terry said. "We'll welcome that addition. We've been playing with three guards at this point and he adds a really good fourth guard to the rotation now for extended minutes."
UTEP has dealt primarily with a seven-man rotation this season, starting with Paul Thomas, Efe Odigie, Jordan Lathon, Kobe Magee and Evan Gilyard, while Kaosi Ezeagu and Gilles Dekoninick come off the bench for the squad.
Using Hawkins in the mix will allow guys like Lathon, Magee and Gilyard to get some rest during games, with each of those guards averaging over 37 minutes per game.
"It's huge," said senior forward Paul Thomas. "We haven't had our full rotation since Grand Canyon, so I'm excited to see how a full group in a real game and it'll help having guys coming off the bench."
Going into Wednesday's game, Gilyard leads the team with 24.5 points per game, followed by Odigie (18.0) and Thomas (10).
For the Wildcats, the Pac-12 squad is led by sophomore guard Brandon Randolph, who is a 6-foot-6 stretch guard averaging 17.5 points per game. They also boast a 6-foot-10 redshirt junior forward Chase Jeter and a 6-foot-5 redshirt junior guard Dylan Smith. Both Jester and Smith average eight boards a game.
Arizona is sharp on the floor, shooting an impressing 47 percent (60-for-127) on the floor and 33 percent (15-for-45) from 3-point range.
Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. MT and the game will be shown on the Pac-12 Network.