The UTEP men's basketball season hit rock bottom yesterday afternoon in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. The Miners trailed Southern Miss 54-12 at halftime, as head coach Doc Sadler beat his former team by 30 points. To rub more salt in the wound, UTEP's humiliating first half performance inspired the Twitterverse.

The loss dropped UTEP to 8-17 overall and 3-11 in conference play. Last night, C-USA released "Bonus Play", the final four conference games before the C-USA Tournament next month in Frisco. The Miners will be in Group 3, with Rice, Middle Tennessee, and Charlotte. Here is the schedule:

Saturday, February 23 Rice at UTEP 7 p.m.
Sunday, March 3 UTEP at Charlotte 2 p.m.
Wednesday, March 6 Middle Tennessee at UTEP 7 p.m.
Saturday, March 9 UTEP at Middle Tennessee 4 p.m.

My initial reaction to the schedule was confusion. UTEP played Rice, Middle Tennessee, and Charlotte one time each during the regular season. The other three teams have also played each other only once during the regular season. El Paso and Houston are the closest geographically to each other (745 miles), and the two teams have only played each other one time this season. Conventional wisdom suggests that these two schools should play each other twice during Bonus Play. Especially since it is only 409 miles between Charlotte and Murfreesboro. However, when has C-USA ever done anything that makes sense? Since it's a mere 1,324 miles between El Paso and Murfreesboro, of course these two schools should play the extra two games against each other!

If C-USA already had their 11-14 game schedule worked out, they did not share that with anyone, especially the media. However, matching up the 11th seed (Rice) with the 14th seed (Charlotte), gives the Owls the best advantage since they finished ahead of Middle Tennessee with their 79-68 win on January 24th. Using this formula, the 12th seed (Middle Tennessee) would get the extra game against the 13th seed (UTEP), which is exactly what happened.

Two of the three conference wins for the Miners have come against Rice and Charlotte. UTEP played Middle Tennessee on the road and lost 75-72. Since they currently trail Rice and Middle Tennessee by two games in the standings, head coach Rodney Terry knows his team is in a must-win situation. The Miners need home victories against the Owls and Blue Raiders plus another road win to have a chance at qualifying for the C-USA Tournament. Rice and Charlotte play each other twice, and the Owls won their only meeting on the road 65-61. If the Miners win three out of their final four games and they get some help with either Rice or Middle Tennessee, they could play next month in Frisco. They will need a much better effort than they showed in Hattiesburg.

"We’re excited about C-USA Bonus Play and the opportunity to play two more games in front of our passionate fans," UTEP coach Rodney Terry said in an official release. "They’ve been tremendous all season long and we’re counting on their continued support as we fight to earn a spot in the C-USA Tournament. It’s going to be a super competitive final four games and we’ve instituted 'Bonus Prices' for 'Bonus Play' in the Haskins Center, which will hopefully help us pack the arena!"

All seats in the Gold, Silver, Bronze and Copper sections are half-price for the Miners’ two C-USA Bonus Play home games, and they go on sale tomorrow. Gold prices for the two games are $14 (regularly $28), Silver are $12 (regularly $24), Bronze are $10 (regularly $20) and Copper are $8 (regularly $16). Upper reserved prices remain $8. UTEP men's basketball season ticket holders can receive one free ticket to either home game by presenting their season ticket to the UTEP Ticket Office.

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