A week after dropping a 72-51 decision at no. 12 Arizona, the UTEP basketball team (1-1) will return to action on Thanksgiving Day against Oklahoma (2-0) in opening round action of the Old Spice Classic.
The Miners and the Sooners will hook up before a national television audience (ESPN2) at 5 p.m. Thursday at HP Fieldhouse on the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex just outside of Orlando.
Joining UTEP in the Old Spice Classic are Clemson, Davidson, Gonzaga, Marist, Vanderbilt and West Virginia. Four of the teams (Davidson, Gonzaga, Vanderbilt, West Virginia) participated in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. The Miners will face either Clemson or Gon¬zaga on Friday and a to-be-determined opponent on Sunday.
UTEP Coach Tim Floyd said rebounding drills have been the Miners’ top priority in practice after they were drilled on the boards, 35-15, last week in Tucson.
“My wife told me we needed to rebound better. I think everybody in El Paso knows we need to rebound better,” he said.
Oklahoma tipped off the campaign with victories over Louisiana-Monroe (85-51) at home and UT Arlington (63-59) on the road. The Sooners have a scoring differential of +19 ppg and a rebounding differential of +11.5 rpg through two games.
Oklahoma has six players averaging at least eight points per game led by senior guard Steven Pledger (13.0 ppg) and freshman guard Buddy Hield (13.0 ppg). Pledger is the top returning scorer in the Big 12 Conference (16.2 ppg in 2011-12). Senior forward Romero Osby (9.0 rpg) and junior forward Amath M’Baye (8.0 rpg) are both averaging at least eight rebounds per outing. Osby is the leading returning rebounder in the Big 12 after averaging 7.3 caroms a season ago. M’Baye, a Wyoming transfer, is the preseason Big 12 Newcomer of the Year. He averaged 12.0 ppg and 5.7 rpg two years ago for the Cowboys.
“Oklahoma is a team that is in transition,” Floyd said. “A year ago, they were around .500. Lon Kruger’s teams are never around .500, much like ours aren’t. He has three starters from a year ago that are now coming off the bench because of the talent influx. Pledger is one of the best scorers returning in the Big 12 Conference. I understand that M’Baye is tremendous.”
The Sooners return eight letterwinners and all five starters from last year’s 15-16 team that fin¬ished 5-13 in Big 12 play (eighth place). Oklahoma returns 88 percent of its scoring, 81 percent of its rebounding and 78 percent of its assists from a year ago.
“It’s a team that likes to play fast,” Floyd said. “They’re going to try to get us in transition. They’re going to try to set a lot of screen and rolls quick in transition. They’re going to throw some presses at us, some halfcourt and fullcourt run and jump traps. This early in the season, everything is new. We’re going to have a lot coming at us in a short period of time, but it should be great for our players.”