John Klein: Youthful Hurricane nabs hard-fought win
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Thursday, January 17, 2013
1/17/13 at 6:53 AM
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Tulsa, full of youth and enthusiasm, learned another valuable lesson on Wednesday night.
When you don't play well, and shots are not falling, the only thing that really matters is finding a way to win.
TU did that against UTEP, getting yet another unexpected victory in coach Danny Manning's first season, and continuing an upward trend of improvement.
The Golden Hurricane survived an awful offensive game, hitting just 40 percent of only 45 shots, but TU was just good enough to turn back UTEP, 45-42, at the Reynolds Center.
"We knew it would be a hard-fought, grind-it-out game," said TU's James Woodard.
There was nothing pretty about this victory except the final score.
"It was ugly, no question about it, but we were still able to grind it out," said Manning.
Both teams were sloppy and shot poorly, but the coaches said they believed it was defense. No question there were very few open looks in this game.
"They (TU) are guarding as well as anyone we've played, and we've played a very tough schedule," said UTEP coach Tim Floyd.
UTEP shot just 31 percent and was an ugly 4-of-20 beyond the 3-point line.
"Defense wasn't the issue," said Floyd. "The issue was our inability to score.
"Credit Tulsa. They were challenged shots."
However, if you are not going to play very well, it is always far better to win. And Tulsa did that, although it struggled at the end and nearly gave it away.
UTEP missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer that would have tied the game.
"We had to keep our composure and keep our poise at the end of the game," said Woodard.
TU gets yet another victory that few would have expected. It won on a night when things didn't go so well. The Hurricane had to find ways to score and be close enough at the end to win.
"Nobody likes to play teams on the road that can defend," said Floyd. "We ran into one of those teams that can defend."
Tulsa continues to be the surprise of Conference USA early in the league season.
"I think this was a good confidence game for us," said Woodard.
Tulsa led 21-20 at halftime. TU did not score in the first five minutes of the second half.
But the Golden Hurricane played enough defense, and got a few buckets down the stretch, to claim the victory.
It was the second time in four conference games that Tulsa has won a low-scoring, defensive game. TU won 48-47 at SMU earlier this season.
"We struggled to get good looks," said Manning. "We guarded them fairly well and that gave us a chance to win the game."
Tulsa is 11-7, more victories than even many optimistic TU fans would have predicted.
More importantly, Tulsa is 3-1 in C-USA. Beating UTEP was significant. Some believe UTEP is a legitimate contender behind Memphis in the league race.
"Our guys are continuing to buy in and believe," said Manning.
The Miners, 9-7 and 2-1 in the league, were unable to find a way to steal a game on the road at Tulsa.
The Golden Hurricane now faces a serious stretch in the season that will send it on the road for four of the next six games, including a Feb. 2 date at Memphis.
The only home games during this stretch will be with Southern Miss and UAB.
So, there will be nothing easy over the next month.
By the time TU reaches mid-February, the Hurricane should have a chance to make a move. The Hurricane gets four of the last six games at home and then plays the Conference USA Tournament March 13-16 at the BOK Center.
In other words, if Tulsa can survive the upcoming road stretch, it should have a good chance to far exceed expectations.
So far, Tulsa has been better than expected. If the youthful Hurricane can survive the road without any huge stumbles, TU would appear capable of much more.
At this point, and at this rate of improvement, some type of postseason is no longer out of the question.
TU Golden Hurricane No.2 Pat Swilling Jr. tries to get around UTEP Miners No.21 John Bohannon during the men's basketball game at the TU Reynolds Center in Tulsa, Okla., taken on January 16,2013. JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World