Memphis-UTEP Preview


With the Conference USA title wrapped up, Memphis can now focus on trying to finish with a perfect record in its final season in the league.

The 25th-ranked Tigers will try to move a step closer by winning at UTEP on Tuesday night.

Memphis (25-4, 14-0) earned its eighth C-USA regular-season crown and record-setting sixth outright title Saturday by rallying from an early 10-point deficit for a 76-67 win at Central Florida. Chris Crawford matched a season high with 19 points and Joe Jackson also had 19 - 5.1 better than his team-leading average.

The Tigers were coming off last Tuesday's 64-62 loss to Xavier, snapping an 18-game win streak - fifth-longest in school history - and a string of 11 consecutive road victories.

"We were probably a little tight after losing a game for the first time in a while," said coach Josh Pastner, who recorded his 100th career victory. "But we got some energy off our bench, especially Chris (Crawford), who played at an extremely high level, and that helped us find a way to win."

Crawford has given the Tigers a big boost lately, averaging 12.0 points and 46.8 percent shooting - including 44.8 from 3-point range - in the last 13 games after averaging 3.5 and 27.8 while going 3 for 28 from the perimeter in his previous 10.

Memphis will try to keep finding ways to win in its final two regular-season games in Conference USA. The school is slated to join the Big East in July.

The Tigers will try to conclude their 18-season stay in C-USA by finishing with a perfect league record for the fourth time. Memphis, which had a 52-game conference win streak snapped with a home loss to UTEP on Jan. 20, 2010, concludes the season Saturday against Alabama-Birmingham.

It hasn't faced the Miners since a 65-47 win in last March's conference tournament quarterfinals in Memphis. Jackson had a team-best 17 points while Tarik Black scored 15 and matched a career high with 13 rebounds.

Memphis is 5-2 all-time in El Paso, and hasn't played there since a 67-66 victory in the 2011 C-USA tournament title game.

This time, the Tigers will face a team that's held its past five opponents under 40 percent shooting. UTEP (16-12, 9-5) limited Rice to 36.5 percent in a 67-56 road victory Saturday and held a 42-26 rebounding advantage.

Junior center John Bohannon was one of three UTEP players with 10 points after scoring a career-high 24 in a 63-53 home win over Houston on Wednesday. UTEP's back-to-back victories followed a 1-4 stretch.

The top two spots for the conference tournament are already locked up and the third-place Miners are trying to get one of the five first-round byes. They're two games ahead of a group of three teams that are tied for fifth, but fourth-place Central Florida is only one back.

"We're just going to try to keep grinding out wins and see where that puts us. We'd like to finish this thing strong," coach Tim Floyd said. "We're comfortable with who we are and why we're in games with some kind of identity, and the defensive end is a big part of our ticket."

Memphis leads the series 10-4.