Hurricane falls at home to UTEP
BY ERIC BAILEY World Sports Writer
Sunday, February 21, 2010
2/25/10 at 11:43 AM
Tulsa competed with a sense of urgency in Saturday's game against first-place UTEP.
That's the good news. The bad news is that it didn't come until the final 19 minutes, after the Golden Hurricane was facing a 20-point deficit and the grumbles of a Reynolds Center crowd of 5,837.
TU's ugly pattern of slow starts continued in a 78-70 loss to the Miners. For the sixth straight game, TU entered halftime on the short end of the scoreboard. And for a team lacking offensive firepower, the 43-26 deficit was too big to overcome.
"UTEP played great and we continue to struggle starting games," said head coach Doug Wojcik, whose team has lost three straight contests. "We just didn't have the passion that we need to have to start a game.
"We dug ourselves a hole again. We fought pretty well in the second half, but we just didn't have enough to finish it off."
The Conference USA loss nudges TU closer to a fifth-place or lower finish, which would prevent a first-round bye in next month's tournament at the BOK Center.
UTEP (20-5 overall, 11-1 C-USA) has emerged as the league's top dog. It has beaten TU, Memphis and UAB on the road this year. After a 10th consecutive win, the Miners should appear in next week's Top 25.
"We're taking steps forward every day. There hasn't been pressure for us to win," said fourth-year UTEP coach Tony Barbee. "The pressure is on us to prepare. We've prepared (now) better than any time since this run."
TU lost its second straight home game for the first time since last season. Much like TU's Feb. 13 loss to visiting Memphis, UTEP's athleticism set the tone in the opening 20 minutes.
The Miners made 10 of their first 13 shots to snatch a 22-10 lead with 11:41 remaining before intermission. The advantage reached 17 points and stuck there at halftime.
"We did a good job late in the second half in fighting back and getting stops," Jerome Jordan said. "But early on, what killed us, is we couldn't get any stops or getting anything going offensively."
Tulsa (19-8, 8-5) began chipping away after intermission and cut the UTEP lead to seven points twice, but couldn't draw closer.
The key possessions came with UTEP leading 63-56 after Uzoh hit a pair of technical foul shots with 8:27 remaining. The Miners didn't score, but TU didn't take advantage after having five missed shots and two turnovers.
"No question," Wojcik answered when asked about it being an important stretch. "We were getting stops and they were a little hesitant ... it was a jagged pill, a tough pill to swallow."
UTEP was led by Randy Culpepper's 29 points. Derrick Caracter muscled his way to 16 points.
"Caracter is a difference-maker," Wojcik said. "He's the guy. He's so strong and took it to our chin and scored at the post."
Uzoh ended with 22 points and Jerome Jordan had 19 points and 13 rebounds. Justin Hurtt had 15 points on 4-of-17 shooting.
Getting better won't be easy this week for Tulsa. Up next is Thursday's trip to No. 6 Duke.
"It's definitely a tough time," Uzoh said. "All is not lost. We have a lot more ballgames to play.
"We definitely just have to band together and stay tight, stay strong."
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TU's Ben Uzoh (center) and Jerome Jordan head back to the bench at the end of the Golden Hurricane's home loss to UTEP on Saturday. Uzoh scored 22 points and Jordan added 19 points and 13 rebounds. MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World
UTEP’s Randy Culpepper dunks over Tulsa’s Justin Hurtt. MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World