A wide open Conference USA tournament will end with a couple of very familiar faces playing for the league’s automatic NCAA bid. Memphis (24-9, 10-6) defeated an outmanned East Carolina team 76-56 on Friday behind a career-high 24 points from Joe Jackson. The Tigers jumped out to a 9-2 lead in the opening minutes and never looked back, keeping a comfortable margin over the Pirates throughout the game. The Tigers maintained their hot shooting ways throughout the game, shooting over 50% from the field, including 58.9% in the first half.
In the other semifinal game, UTEP (25-8, 11-5) utilized its distinct home court advantage to go on an 18-5 run in the second half and pull away from Tulsa 66-54. Randy Culpepper showcased once again that he is the most talented individual player in C-USA, scoring 26 points on 9-16 shooting. The Miners shot 66 percent in the second half to pull away from Tulsa and with the victory, set up an opportunity to play once again for the NCAA tournament on their home court.
The finals matchup will be on Saturday morning at 9:30 am local time in El Paso. Due to the national television scheduling, the early morning tipoff means that both teams will have a quick turnaround and an early wakeup call before the game. However for Memphis, the hope is that the result will not follow the pattern of the two teams’ previous encounter. Just two weeks ago, the two teams battled in El Paso and UTEP won 74-47 in a game that was never really close.
In that game, UTEP did what it hopes to accomplish again on Saturday, mainly close out on Memphis’s perimeter shooters and force them to find offense on the interior. In the first meeting, UTEP held Memphis to 1-18 shooting from three-point range and even found holes in the Tigers’ interior defense, allowing backup center John Bohannon to score 15 points off the bench. In this rematch, Memphis will have clean up that defense and find a way to score easy baskets from their explosive scorers. If the Tigers are unable to once again find a rhythm from outside, it will be a second consecutive NCAA trip for the Miners.
Posted by Matt Jones