UTEP at No. 13 Kansas: Three Things to Know Before Tipoff
Prior to the start of the Conference USA Tournament in Frisco (March 9-13), the Miners will close out the regular season against one of the country's top basketball programs in No. 13 Kansas on Thursday in Allen Fieldhouse.
Who: UTEP (12-10, 8-8 C-USA) vs. No. 13 Kansas (18-8, 12-6 C-USA)
When: Thursday, 6 p.m. MT
Where: Allen Fieldhouse (Lawrence, Kansas)
Listen: 600 ESPN El Paso (MinerTalk following the game)
Here are three things to know before tipoff.
UTEP's non-conference games really shaped up
The conversation of having Kansas on the schedule had been in the works for a while now, according to head coach Rodney Terry. They tried to work out a game earlier this season but nothing came of it. Terry credited assistant coach Nick Matson for staying in constant communication with the Jayhawks. When both schools had an open week before their respective league tournaments, the game fell into place and the Miners scheduled another quality non-conference opponent.
"We've challenged our guys this year to go play perennial winners on their home court — Arizona, Arizona State, St. Mary's — teams that traditionally have been very, very good," Terry said. "I was hoping our guys would be super-excited by the opportunity to challenge themselves [against Kansas]."
No doubt Thursday's contest is the classic David vs. Goliath matchup. The Miners have lost five consecutive road games going into Allen Fieldhouse, averaging 57.6 points and allowing 72.2 through the stretch. On the other hand, Kansas is a force at home, having won their last seven at Allen Fieldhouse.
"When you go in there for shootaround -- I got to coach in the Big 12 for 11 years -- and I'll never forget the first time I went in there as an assistant coach at Baylor," Terry said.
You go in there and initially in shootaround, you think, 'nah, it's not that bad.' When the lights go on, it's a whole different monster. They have great basketball fans and they appreciate great basketball. Great venue to play in and historical venue to play in. Playing one of the best programs in the county in the best basketball conference in the country."
“Our guys always loved playing there,” said Terry, who coached future NBA players like Kevin Durant, D.J. Augustin, LaMarcus Aldridge and Tristan Thompson at Texas. “We played a lot of close games in there. I only won one time."
Similarly, point guard Jamal Bieniemy has a lot of familiarity with this group after his time manning the point guard position for Oklahoma in the previous two seasons. Last year against Kansas, Bieniemy scored two points, grabbed three rebounds and totaled three assists for the Sooners in their 87-70 loss.
“This group is kind of the same group of guys that I played against when I was at Oklahoma,” he said. “Just athletic defenders who can make shots. They're not going to beat themselves, so you just have to be ready to play and execute.”
Win or lose, the Miners will get another shot at KU next season again, as the program announced they would face the Jayhawks in the non-conference portion of the 2021-22 season.
Both teams are riding different waves of momentum
UTEP's currently riding their longest win streak of the year, having won four straight home games. They pushed past Charlotte with ease last weekend, sweeping their second consecutive C-USA series. Kansas recently dethroned previously unbeaten Baylor (71-58) last weekend.
The key for UTEP tonight will be to keep up offensively. Easier said than done, though. The 13th ranked Jayhawks are 18-0 when holding teams to scoring fewer than 75 points. UTEP is 0-9 when they score less than 68 points, but 12-1 overall when they score 69 or more points.
“To watch where they were then to where they are now and what he’s done with this group, I think is one of his best jobs since [Bill Self's] been at KU,” Terry said. “I think a lot of it’s predicated on how hard they guard."
UTEP will especially need strong outings from their two leading scorers.
The Miners' top scorer in junior guard Souley Boum (18.7 ppg, third in C-USA) is averaging 21.8 points through his last 10 games. From 3-point land, he's recently had ice in his veins. Boum has hit 40.8 percent of his 3-pointers this year and is 12-for-25 over his last three outings from beyond the arc. Besides his sharp shooting abilities, Boum attacks the basket and draws contact at a significant clip.
Forward Bryson Williams (14.8 ppg, 7.1 rebounds) is fresh off a dominant Senior Day outing against Charlotte where he dropped 23 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. Williams will have a ton of eyes on him in the Kansas game and this is another opportunity for him to show out against a high-level opponent.
Kansas is led by Ochai Agbaji (13.5 ppg), who is the top 3-point shooter in the Big 12 and ranks in the top-15 across the country. David McCormack (13.2), Jalen Wilson (12.6), Christian Braun (10.3) and Marcus Garrett (10.2) each average double-digits in scoring.
History favors the Miners
When you talk about UTEP and Kansas historically, interestingly enough the Miners have the upper hand against the powerhouse Big 12 program. They have a 3-1 all-time advantage over the Jayhawks.
The last time they played in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament (Nov. 30, 2013), Kansas squeezed out a 67-63 win with the likes of future NBA talent Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and Frank Mason III on their roster.
Coincidently, the last time UTEP won an NCAA Tournament game was when the program upset the 1-seed Jayhawks (66-60) to advance to the Sweet 16 in 1992.
Kansas and UTEP first met in the 1966 season when the eventual national title winners defeated No. 4 Kansas (81-80, 2OT). Texas Western turned around the following season (1966-67) and beat the Jayhawks in Chicago, Ill.
There's always a chance, right?