GAME NOTES: The Texas-El Paso Miners have won five games in a row and will look to extend that streak as they host the Rice Owls in a Conference USA tilt at the Haskins Center.
Rice finally put an end to an eight-game losing streak with a victory over Charlotte last Saturday, but fell back into the loss column with an 89-76 defeat at the hands of Texas-San Antonio Thursday night. Rice, at 1-6 in conference play, is four and a half games out of first place at this point.
UTEP rocketed up into a tie for first place in Conference USA with an 89-79 victory over Louisiana Tech at home Thursday night. The Miners have now won five straight games and 10 of their last 11 as they enter the month of February. UTEP is in a first-place tie with Southern Miss at 5-1 in the conference.
The Miners own a 16-11 all-time series lead between the two programs. This game marks the first and only time they will clash on the hardwood during the regular season.
Rice and UTSA battled throughout an offensive shootout Thursday, as each team netted well over 45 percent of their attempts from the floor. Rice connected on 48.3 percent of its shots, while UTSA hit 49.1 percent from the floor. Keith Washington led the Owls with 20 points in the losing effort, while Sean Obi chipped in a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Austin Ramljak turned in 10 points for good measure. The Owls hit 10-of-28 from 3-point range.
Ramljak leads the team in scoring this season with 12.4 ppg on 41.1 percent shooting from the floor. Obi isn't very far behind in terms of scoring at 12 ppg, but leads the team in rebounding with 9.5 rpg and is tied for the top spot with 14 blocked shots. The Owls are netting an average of 65.1 ppg this season, and allowing opponents to score 70.7 ppg on them.
Vince Hunter set a UTEP freshman record against Louisiana Tech by scoring 26 points in the win over the preseason favorite Bulldogs. Hunter led his Miners with the 26 points, adding nine rebounds in the process. Julian Washburn connected for 21 points, and C.J. Cooper contributed 17 and a team-high five assists. John Bohannon recorded a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds. The Miners shot 56 percent from the floor in the win.
UTEP suspended three players earlier in January, including leading scorer McKenzie Moore. Since then, the other Miners players have stepped up and led the team to five consecutive wins and a share of first place. Washburn is the team's active leading scorer with 12.5 ppg, while Hunter is second at 12.3 ppg. Bohannon rounds out the double-digit scorers at 11 ppg and a team-best 8.5 rpg. The Miners are averaging 70.5 ppg and allowing just 64.9 ppg to their opponents.
UTEP is on a roll, and should be able to keep it going against a Rice team struggling to find an offensive identity.
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