UTEP Set to Host Western Illinois in The Basketball Classic Postseason Tournament
Talk about a quick turnaround for UTEP head coach Joe Golding and his squad.
The Miners learned of their opponent in The Basketball Classic just a day before they are set to hit the floor in the first round of the postseason tournament. UTEP is set to host Western Illinois of the Summit League on Tuesday, March 15, at 5 p.m.
The Leathernecks finished the season 16-15 overall and bowed out in the first round of the Summit League conference tournament to Oral Roberts (80-68). Head coach Rob Jeter has shown significant progress since taking over in 2020 (7-16), as the squad posted its first winning record since 2013.
As a team, Western Illinois finished the regular season with the second-best rebounding average in the league at 38.6 per game, including nearly 12 offensive rebounds per game. That will be something UTEP will need to be good at on Tuesday in order to try and win a postseason game.
Standout players for Western Illinois include Second Team all conference selection guard Trenton Massner, who averages 16.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.8 steals per game. Forward Luka Barisic (6-foot-10) averages 14.5 points per game, 5.9 rebounds and shoots 41% from the field. Wing Will Carius is another player to watch as the team's second leading scorer at 14.7 points per game.
Despite the Miners not knowing who they would be playing in the tournament, the team went through practice on Sunday ahead of Tuesday's game.
UTEP head coach Joe Golding talked with media members following practice and explained the decision to play in The Basketball Classic. Initially, Golding hinted at not joining the tournament and focusing on recruiting instead. The players helped make the decision easier for Golding.
"I talked to Souley [Boum] and Tydus [Verhoeven], and let them know that we had some postseason options out there," Golding said. "They texted me the other day and said they wanted to play. I'm proud of them. They deserve to play another game."
The Basketball Classic is a 32-team tournament that will replace the former CIT postseason tournament. ESPN+ will televise all of the contests, while 600 ESPN El Paso will have coverage starting Tuesday at 4:30pm.
"After the game, we had a bad taste in our mouth and we felt like we should've won," said Alfred Hollins. "The veterans came together and we decided that it's only right to come back to the Don, get a couple wins and hopefully win the postseason."
UTEP finished the year 19-13 and wanted a chance to get to 20 wins for the first time since the 2014-15 season.