TULSA, Okla. -- Playing on short rest did not slow down UTEP (No. 21 ESPN/USA Today, No. 25 AP) in the Conference USA tournament.
UTEP finished its second-round game against UCF late, which concerned coach Tony Barbee about an early afternoon semifinal against host school Tulsa on Friday.But the Miners came out ready and defeated the Golden Hurricane 75-61.
The Miners had no problem with their offense and their defense also forced Tulsa into off-target shooting.The win was the 15th straight for UTEP (26-5), which has not lost since Jan. 13. UTEP advances to the league championship game Saturday against Houston, which beat Southern Mississippi 74-66."That was really a hard feat to accomplish to beat a team as good as Tulsa three times in one year," Barbee said. "They've got a really good team, but my team has been special all year long and it's really clicked for us defensively and I've been preaching it since I've been at UTEP and these guys have finally grown to understand what defense and toughness and rebounding can do for a team because offense is going to come and go."Randy Culpepper led the Miners with 21 points, two steals and a blocked shot. Arnett Moultrie added 18 points, Christian Polk scored 13 points and Derrick Caracter added 10.Tulsa, seeded fifth in the tournament, had rallied for wins over Rice and Marshall. But it could not come back against UTEP.Justin Hurtt led Tulsa with a game-high 22 points. Jerome Jordan had his 12th double-double of the season and 30th of his career with 11 points and 15 rebounds."It was really a hard-fought game," Tulsa coach Doug Wojcik said. "Give UTEP a lot of credit. I thought Arnett Moultrie played a brilliant game. He made shots that were really hard to defend. Sometimes offense is better than defense. During the course [of the game] we dug ourselves a hole with our turnovers and our free throws. I felt those were the three things that did us in."UTEP shot 51.9 percent in the half and limited Tulsa to 39.6 percent.Turnovers and free throws hurt Tulsa. Tulsa finished with 18 turnovers, with 13 steals by the Miners, nine in the first half.Tulsa finished with a 39-30 rebounding advantage.UTEP jumped out to a 15-4 lead in the first 4:37.The Hurricane got within five points with a 6-0 run. That would be the closest they would get.UTEP made it 35-19 when Moultrie had a lay-up, after grabbing a rebound at the rim from a missed 25-foot jumper by Culpepper.Tulsa's Joe Richard rebounded a missed shot from teammate Hurtt and scored off a dunk to bring the Hurricane within 35-25 at halftime.UTEP increased the lead to 45-29 early in the second half with a pair of 3s from Polk and Culpepper in 6-1 run.UTEP's largest lead was 20 points.A dunk by Moultrie made it 49-29 with 13:50 left. He also hit a jumper that made it 59-39 with 9:19 to go.A lay-up by the Hurricane's Bryson Pope capped an 11-1 run to cut UTEP's lead to 69-61 with 2:14 remaining.