Fresh off a season-opening 20-point victory over Oral Roberts, the UTEP basketball team (1-0) will hit the road for the first time on Thursday at no. 12 Arizona (1-0).
Fox Sports will have national coverage of the game with Justin Kutcher (play-by-play) and Marques Johnson (analyst) calling the action at 8 pm MT.
The Miners and the Wildcats have faced one another 89 times on the hardwood, but not since the 1995-96 season. Arizona is set to play a return game in the Don Haskins Center during the 2014-15 season.
“First of all, we’re really appreciative that Arizona will play us in this home-and-home series,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “We think that the game will be great for our young players this early in the season. It will help us in league play as we move forward.”
The Wildcats return eight letterwinners and three starters from last year’s 23-12 squad that finished 12-6 in the Pac-12 Conference (fourth place). Arizona’s last two recruiting classes have been rated no. 7 and no. 3 nationally by ESPNU. This year the Wildcats introduce four freshmen (forward Brandon Ashley, forward Grant Jerrett, center Kaleb Tarczewski, guard Gabe York) who were ranked in the ESPNU Top 100.
Ashley was a teammate of UTEP freshman center Matt Willms at Findlay Prep last season. Jerrett is a former teammate of UTEP sophomore guard C.J. Cooper at Lutheran HS in La Verne, Calif.
The Wildcats have five players 6-8 or taller on their 2012-13 roster. The top returning scorer from last season’s team is senior forward Solomon Hill (12.9 ppg).
The Wildcats slipped past Charleston Southern, 82-73, in their opener on Sunday in Tucson. Charleston Southern trailed 59-57 with eight minutes remaining before Arizona pulled away down the stretch. Five Wildcats scored in double figures -- Mark Lyons (17 points), Hill (14), Ashley (12), Nick Johnson (12) and Jordin Mayes (10).
“I have great respect for their coach and players, one of whom I recruited very heavily at USC in Solomon Hill,” Floyd said. “I know that the atmosphere will resemble what we see in our league at Memphis. Every person on the floor for us will be challenged at his position by one of the better talents in the country.”
Arizona played in the NIT last season after reaching the NCAA Tournament in 26 of the previous 27 years. The Wildcats won the 1997 national title, were national runner-up in 2001 and also reached the Final Four in 1988 and 1994.
Improvement from a year ago was immediately apparent in the Miners’ 69-49 conquest of Oral Roberts, a 27-game winner last season. The Miners had decisive advantages in points off turnovers (22-6), points in the paint (40-16), fast break points (18-8) and bench scoring (22-0). UTEP had 40 or more points in the paint just three times in 32 games last season. The 18 fast break points were six more than the Miners had in any game last season, and the 22 points off turnovers tied their high total for the 2011-12 campaign.
Now the Miners will see if they can transfer the same high level of play to an opponent’s home court.
“Teams that can get to the line and keep their opponent off the line generally have an opportunity to be in the game on the road,” Floyd said. “Teams that don’t turn it over generally have a chance to hang around with a chance to win.”