UTEP at UAB Preview: Three Keys for the Miners on the Road
UTEP men's basketball (6-9, 1-3 Conference USA) will hit the road this week and test their winless (0-5) road record on Thursday against UAB (10-7, 2-2 C-USA) in Birmingham, Ala.
Here are the three keys for the Miners on Thursday:
Get Lathon and Hawkins comfortable early
We already know what UTEP's two best scorers in Evan Gilyard and Efe Odigie can do on the floor, combining for 31.4 points per game, but opponents have started to adjust defensively, double-team Odigie down low and force Gilyard to take bad shots.
Similarly, defenses have dared struggling shooters to score on open looks, such as Paul Thomas, who is shooting a team-low .200 field goal percentage.
That leaves it open for Nigel Hawkins and Jordan Lathon to create opportunities for themselves during games.
Lathon is coming off a buzzer-beater game winning shot over the Rice Owls on Saturday, while Hawkins' 24 point performance against Rice earned him a C-USA Freshman of the Week honor.
But the Miners do better as a collective when Lathon and Hawkins play well.
Hawkins started the season averaging 8.9 points per game and has now elevated his scoring to 15.5 ppg through the last six games. He does it so quietly, but it makes all the difference.
Lathon has averaged nearly two steals in UTEP's last nine games and has now been given the keys to run the point for the Miners on offense, where he leads the team in assists (42) and averages just under 10 ppg.
“Us being young and having the potential that we do, I like playing with [Lathon] and it gives us a good chance at getting things done," Hawkins said.
Keep UAB off the glass as much as possible
UAB enters Thursday's game with a +7.1 rebounding margin, which is the best in C-USA.
And it's something Rodney Terry understands and emphasized it deliberately throughout practice this week.
“You’re talking about an athletic team that rebounds on both ends of the floor,” first-year UTEP head coach Rodney Terry said. “They have some older guys and some good pieces. They look the part and look like, in my mind, a Mountain West team, a high-major team.”
As a team, UTEP is +0.6 on the glass with Odigie leading the way in terms of rebounding. Odigie's 10 rebounds per game puts him at No. 1 in C-USA for rebounds per game. They will need a big game from him in order to win Thursday.
Ride momentum and don't dwell on the past
Saturday's win over Rice snapped a three-game losing streak for the Miners, who had also lost four of their last five games. The Miners are winless (0-5) on the road thus far, but that shouldn't define them.
Instead, the Miners need to ride their momentum off getting their first C-USA win of the season against Rice.
UTEP lost last year in Birmingham to UAB, where the Blazers have beat the Miners seven times in nine games on their home court. But each of those nine games were decided by nine points or less.
This is the chance for the Miners to get their biggest C-USA win of the season and doing it on the road would prove to be something special.