For the past three years, UTEP and its fans have watched programs take the WestStar Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational championship, such as UC Irvine (2015), Akron (2016) and North Dakota State (2017).

This year, with competition like Norfolk State, Wyoming and East Tennessee State, UTEP has their eyes set on bringing the trophy home for the first time since 2014.

But for first-year head coach Rodney Terry and his young squad, it won't be an easy road to be crowned title winners in the Invitational.

UTEP's first opponent Norfolk State (4-8) will enter Friday's game after a 80-49 loss to Loyola-Chicago, who reached the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament in March. They are led by junior Nic Thomas, who is averaging 14.9 points per game, followed by senior Jordan Butler, who averages 5.4 rebounds per game. Norfolk State is undergoing a three-game losing streak and hasn't won a game on the road this year (0-5).

“[Norfolk State] can really push the ball, score points and play transition defense. They have a couple guys who can make shots. Their older players, [Nic] Thomas and [Derrik] Jamerson can really shoot the ball,” Terry said.

The last time UTEP faced Norfolk State, the Spartans beat out the Miners in the 2015 Sun Bowl Invitational, 85-76.

East Tenneessee State (8-4) enters the tournament after losing to Illinois (73-55) on Dec. 15. The Buccaneers are led by juniors Tray Boyd, who averages 12 points per game, and Jeromy Rodriguez, who averages 11.9 rebounds per game. They also recently brought in Lucas N'Guessan, a 7-foot transfer from Oklahoma State who recently made his first apperance against Illinois.

Wyoming (3-7) fell in overtime loss to the Denver Pioneers in Laramie (90-87) coming into the Sun Bowl Invitational. Senior Justin James leads the team in scoring (24.5 ppg) and rebounding (9.8 rpg). 

UTEP, on the other hand, is coming off a home win against UC Riverside (68-56). Leading scorer sophomore Evan Gilyard (18 ppg) sat out against UC Riverside, but Terry was optimistic about his return to the court this week.

"Our training staff has done a great job all year," Terry said. "We’re never going to put a player out there that isn’t ready to go. I think that they’re doing a good job. There’s a good chance we see [Gilyard] in the tournament."

Currently, freshman forward Efe Odigie is second in C-USA for rebounding (9.0 per game) and is coming off a 24 point and 11 rebound finish against UC Riverside. He will be a key player for the Miners in the upcoming tournament.

Below is a full schedule of the 57th annual WestStar Bank Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational (Dec. 21-22):

Friday, Dec. 21

5 p.m. (MT) – ETSU vs. Wyoming

7 p.m. (MT) – Norfolk State vs. UTEP

Saturday, Dec. 22

5 p.m. (MT) – Consolation Game

7 p.m. (MT) – Championship Game

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