We are down to the final four following UTEP's convincing 76-54 victory over UCF. The Miners will play Tulsa at 3 p.m. Friday in what promises to be a whale of a semifinal game. Houston will take on Southern Miss in the other semifinal at 5:30. The two winners will meet at 10:30 a.m. Saturday for the tournament title.
We will be back Friday afternoon for all the semifinal action, so be sure to join us then.
Here is an odd stat. The current leading scorer in this game, UTEP junior forward Jeremy Williams, has made only three shots from the field. He is 3-of-5, with two of his buckets coming from three-point range. That's eight points. And he is 9-for-9 from the free-throw line, making for a total of 17.
We just had the best individual match-up of the game. The UTEP miner mascot battled the UCF knight mascot. It was pick-ax vs. sword. The miner was at a distinct disadvantage, however, since the knight is wearing full armor and has a shield, while the minor is wearing blue jeans and has a bad Tom Selleck mustache.
Meanwhile, out on the court, UTEP leads 64-35.
Marcus Jordan just entered the game. Unless Michael Jordan joins him, UCF doesn't have much a chance. UTEP leads 62-31 with 12:25 to play.
We are quickly running out of things to say about this game. UTEP now leads 58-27. The stats are just as lopsided as the score. The Miners lead in rebounding 20 to 10, assists 14 to 6, and shooting 64.7 percent to 33.3 percent.
An impressive first half by UTEP. The Miners made 68 percent of their shots (17-of-25) while holding UCF to 31.8 percent shooting (7-of-22), and they have a 48-20 halftime lead. It's too early to say that this one is over, but it's awfully close.
Assuming the Miners hold on and win this game (and they currently lead 44-20), this will mark the second time in the past three years that only the No. 1 seed among the top four seeded teams made it past the quarterfinals. In 2008, top-seeded Memphis advanced while No. 2 UAB, No. 3 Houston and No. 4 UCF all lost.
There are three UTEP fans in the stands wearing bright orange sombreros, and two others who are wearing orange hard hats. Don't they sell regular old baseball caps in El Paso?
The Miners are taking care of business. UTEP is putting this one away quick, building a 39-18 lead late in the first half.
Two early stats to keep an eye on. UCF has managed only two rebounds in 13 minutes. And the Knights have already committed 10 turnovers (to just two assists).
This might be a case of one team simply being considerably better than the other. The Miners lead 30-14 and appear focused and determined to make sure they do not fall victim to the upset bug that has hit C-USA today. Plus, keep in mind that when these teams met during the regular season, UTEP cruised to a 96-59 victory
All right, let's turn our attention to the final game of the day between top-seeded UTEP and the UCF Knights. The Miners have jumped out to a 17-9 lead.
All the other teams that received a first-round bye have lost today, and UCF is looking to make it a clean sweep. But to pull off the upset, the Knights will have to snap UTEP's 14-game winning streak.
To put that streak into perspective, the last time the Miners lost a game the NFL playoffs had just started, and the beginning of the Winter Olympics was still a month away.
There has been a lot of talk in recent years about the success of the various senior classes at Memphis and the number of games they were able to win in the conference tournament.
Well, Tulsa's current senior class needs to start getting some credit as well. The Golden Hurricane has now won eight times in the C-USA Tournament over the past four seasons, including this one. Tulsa made it to the championship game each of the past two years, before losing to Memphis on the Tigers' homecourt.
We said before the game that there would be plenty of blocked shots, and that was indeed the case. There were a total of 10 blocks: six for Marshall (all by Whiteside) and four for Tulsa.
Marshall's downfall against Tulsa stems primarily from the lack of production by their starting guards. Damier Pitts, Dago Pena and Chris Lutz combined to go 2-of-18 from the floor and 1-of-9 from three-point range.
The Herd basically turned into a two-man team. Forward Hassan Whiteside and Tyler Wilkerson combined to score 30 points. The rest of the team had 34. Whiteside and Wilkerson combined for 18 rebounds. Everybody else had a total of 17.
And there was one final state the led to Marshall's downfall. The Herd had only five assists, compared to 17 for Tulsa.
It was a strong, strong effort by Marshall. But this game showed the difference between a team whose best players are seniors (Jordan and Uzoh for Tulsa) and a team whose roster is filled with freshmen and sophomores. When the Golden Hurricane got down, its seniors did not panic. And when Tulsa made it late-game run, Marshall's young players did not react well.
The result is Tulsa closed the game with a stunning 35-12 run and won going away, 80-64. Tulsa advances to play either UTEP or UCF in Friday's semifinals.
Like we said about Ben Uzoh, superior quality. He won't end up as Tulsa's leading scorer tonight - that honor is going to Jerome Jordan - but he has hit several of the most important baskets. He just made another jumper with the shot clock winding down, and it probably sealed the victory for the Golden Hurricane. Tulsa leads 75-64 with only 1:30 remaining.
Another Tulsa slam, this one by Steven Idlet. The Golden Hurricane leads 71-61 with less than four minutes to play. Does Marshall have one final run left?
Tulsa is taking control of the game. The Golden Hurricane is on a 24-6 run and has surged to a 69-58 lead. There's still nearly six minutes left, but Marshall has to counter now, or this one is going to get out of reach.
Channel your inner Dick Vitale, baby. Ben Uzoh to Jerome Jordan for the crowd-pleasing dunk. Tulsa is back in front, leading 59-58 midway through the second half.
Justin Hurtt, who turned in the play of the tournament's opening night with his soaring one-handed dunk against Rice, is at it again. Though it wasn't quite as impressive as last night, he just excited the crowd with another strong jam. That was followed by a Jerome Jordan basket, and suddenly Tulsa has closed the gap to 53-51 with still more than 12 minutes to play.
Tulsa guard Ben Uzoh's name is pronounced the same way as the Greek drink Ouzo. According to some accounts, the word "ouzo" was used in 19th century Italy to designate that a product was of "superior quality."
That certainly would describe Ben Uzoh. He has been a key contributor to the Golden Hurricane's success this season, and he is working hard to keep Tulsa in this game. Uzoh has scored Tulsa's past six points and has 12 for the game, but it's not enough right now as Marshall has built a 52-45 lead.
As befits the two tallest teams in the league, there is no difference at all in the big-man stats. The rebounding is even at 19-19, scoring in the paint is all square at 20-20, and both teams have blocked three shots.
Marshall went on a 5-0 run to close the half and take a 38-33 lead. The difference so far has been at the free-throw line, where the Herd is 13-of-15, while Tulsa is only 6-of-9. That seven-point difference in foul shooting has Marshall in the lead.
We're nearing halftime, and this game has last-minute game-winner written all of it. These are two evenly matched teams, as evident by the 33-33 score. Neither team has a clear edge in any aspect of the game.
After watching the slogfest that was Southern Miss vs. UAB, it was inevitable that this game would be more uptempo. But so far it's been even more than that. Sort of like watching a 1920s black-and-white silent movie, and then going to see a showing of "Avatar."
During one recent possession, Tulsa's Ben Uzoh blocked a shot, Marshall's Dago Pena grabbed the ball and threw it over his head as he was falling out of bounds, the Herd tracked down the ball, missed a shot, and Tulsa grabbed the rebound.
It was 10 seconds of riveting action, and in the end nobody scored. As opposed to the USM-UAB game, which would be a full minute of no action, and in the end nobody scored.
Marshall forward Antonio Haymon just took a shot ... from one of his teammates. Tirrell Baines collided with Haymon following a Marshall rebound, and Haymon looked a little woozy as he ran back downcourt.
No offense to Haymon, but Marshall fans probably are glad that it wasn't Baines who was shaken up in the collision. Baines already has eight points, three rebounds and three steals, which is one of the main reasons the Herd has a 21-17 lead.
It took barely a minute for the first block of the game to occur, with Jerome Jordan getting the honors. It likely will be the first of many, since these two teams ranked one-two in the conference in blocked shots. Marshall easily led the way with 249, a staggering average of eight per game. Tulsa was second with 180, a 5.8 per-game average.
By comparison, SMU, Rice and Tulane all had fewer than 80 blocked shots this season. It took Marshall only 10 games to exceed that total.
And we're back. It's time for what could be one of the best games of the tournament, No. 5 seed and hometown Tulsa vs. fourth-seeded Marshall. Both teams boast quality big men and some athletic guards. The teams split the regular-season series, so the winner of this game gets bragging rights and a trip to the tournament semifinals. It should be a good one.
Next up is Tulsa vs. Marshall, beginning at 6:30 p.m. We'll be back soon with all the details.
UAB head coach Mike Davis just concluded a brutally honest news conference in which he pulled no punches in talking about the way his team played against Southern Miss. We're not going to go into too many details, other than to give you his opening line, which pretty much sums up his feelings.
"I thought we were doomed from the start," Davis said.
Hide the children. We're about to talk about UAB's shooting stats. The Blazers were 18-of-46 from the field (39.1 percent) and a horrific 4-of-15 from the free-throw line (26.7 percent). The Blazers had twice as many turnovers (10) as successful free throws.
Southern miss prevailed 58-44. That is UAB's lowest point total in more than three years. The Blazers were never closer than eight points after falling behind 16-2 early. So basically, this game was decided in the first five minutes.
The Golden Eagles will play Houston in Friday's semifinals. It will be an interesting contrast in styles, with the uptempo Cougars trying to puncture USM's suffocating defense.
This one is over. USM leads 55-39 with less than two minutes to play. They might not be pretty, but give the Golden Eagles credit. They have a style of play they are comfortable with, and when it works it gives the other team fits. Call it 40 minutes of dreck.
While the Blazers have struggled at the free-throw line (two more misses brings their total to 4-of-15), Southern Miss has been money. The Golden Eagles have made 19-of-22 foul shots, including all eight of their second-half attempts.
Not hard to figure this one out. USM has scored 15 more points than UAB from the line. USM leads UAB by 13.
The Blazers are particularly hurting themselves at the free-throw line. UAB has missed all four of its foul shots in the second half and is now 4-of-13 for the game.
With 7:13 left to play, there is still plenty of time for UAB. Yet the Blazers simply have not shown the ability to make any sort of extended run at USM. Even though the Blazers doubled their anemic first-half scoring production in barely 12 minutes in the second half, they still trail by 12 points at 46-34, which is only three points less than their halftime deficit.
UAB point guard Aaron Johnson passed the ball to teammate Jamarr Sanders, then urged the hesitant Sanders to "keep going" toward the basket. Instead, Sanders pulled up for a fadeaway jump shot. It wasn't what Johnson was looking for, but the shot was good.
The pace is startling to be more to UAB's liking, as the Blazers have nearly doubled their first-half output in only 10 minutes. But the Golden Eagles continue to maintain a comfortable cushion and currently lead 44-32 midway through the half.
The Blazers have scored nine points in the first four minutes of the second half. That doesn't sound overly impressive, until you consider it took them more than 10 minutes to score that many points in the first half.
But it's still an uphill slog for UAB, as Southern Miss leads 37-26.
The halftime numbers are ugly for UAB. The Blazers finished the half with as many turnovers as made shots (six each). The Blazers made only 30 percent of their shots from the field, 44.4 percent from the free-throw line, and were outrebounded 18 to 12. Their leading scorer, Jamarr Sanders, has five points.
Southern Miss held Tulane to 16 first-half points in Wednesday's opening round. UAB scored 17 points in the first half today. That's a total of 33 points in 40 minutes of playing time. Amazing.
The Golden Eagles lead 32-17 at halftime. That means if the Blazers can do no more than double their first-half output, then USM needs to score only three points in the second half to win.
Fifteen minutes into the game, UAB has more turnovers (five) than made shots (four). That's no way to win a basketball game, and sure enough, the Blazers trail 25-11.
UAB appears to have settled down after its early funk and has cut the Golden Eagles' initial 14-point lead down to nine. But the Blazers continue to struggle from the field, having made only 4-of-15 shots. With the way USM plays defense, the Blazers can't stay too far down for too long, or else they won't have enough time to come back.
We're getting a late start talking about the second game between UAB and Southern Miss. And apparently the Blazers are getting a late start in playing it. Less than five minutes into the game, USM already has a 16-2 lead, and the Blazers were just called for a traveling violation coming out of a timeout.
As far as Memphis forward Will Coleman is concerned, it wasn't the final shot by Houston's Aubrey Coleman that beat Memphis. It was the first half, when the Tigers fell behind by nine points.
"We slept on those first 20 minutes," Coleman said, "and it came back and bit us."
Aubrey Coleman's leaner between two Memphis defenders turned out to be the game-winning shot. But the fact is, the Tigers were double-teaming the player they knew would take the final shot, and Memphis head coach Josh Pastner said he doesn't know much else his team could have done differently.
"We trapped him, which we wanted to do, but the trap opened up just a little bit and he got through the seam and made the shot," Pastner said. "It was good defense, but better offense."
Sometimes the stat sheet doesn't tell the entire truth, but there was a stat from the Memphis-Houston game that accurately summed up why the Cougars managed to pull out a one-point victory.
Houston outrebounded Memphis 46 to 33, including a staggering 22 to 6 advantage on the offensive boards. Those numbers enabled the Cougars to overcome their 35.3 percent shooting performance.
"Our kids shot 35 percent and won. That means you're doing a lot of other things very well," Houston head coach Tom Penders said. "We really rebounded the ball extremely well. We had 22 offensive rebounds. That's huge. We had a lot of second and third shots, and you need that when you shoot 35 percent."
Was there any doubt who was going to take the final shot for the Cougars? Aubrey Coleman split two Memphis defenders and drained a short lean-in jumper to give Houston a 66-65 upset victory over Memphis. This was a great, great basketball game.
Houston, the team of dead men walking according to head coach Tom Penders, is still alive. The Cougars will play the winner of our next game between UAB and Southern Miss in the semifinals Friday afternoon.
Willie Kemp just did it again. After Aubrey Coleman hit a shot to give Houston a one-point lead, Kemp calmly drove inside for a layup, putting Memphis back in front 65-64 with 15.7 seconds on the clock.
A cold-blooded three-pointer by Kelvin Lewis has put the Cougars back on top 62-61 as we hit the two-minute mark. Buckle up. It looks like we're in for a wild ride.
Another basket by Kemp has given the Tigers their first lead since 11-8. The BOK Center is starting to sound like the FedEx Forum. With 3:12 left, Memphis leads 61-59.
Two consecutive baskets by Willie Kemp has tied the game at 57, but give a big assist to Wesley Witherspoon. He had an offensive rebound that kept the ball alive and led to Kemp's first basket, and then on the next possession he tipped a defensive rebound out to Kemp, who proceeded to score on a fastbreak.
If the Tigers end up losing this game - and they currently trail 55-49 with 7:47 remaining - one of the culprits will be the shooting of Elliot Williams. A first-team All-Conference selection, Williams is 0-for-7 from the field and has nearly as many fouls (four) as points (six). He averaged a team-best 18.5 ppg this season.
Houston may have withstood the Tigers' best run. Memphis had the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead, but didn't score. The Cougars have since gone on a 11-5 run to take a 53-45 lead with nine minutes remaining.
So despite all the good things the Tigers have done this half, at the moment they have trimmed only one point off Houston's halftime lead.
Another block by Will Coleman. His second-half stat line after only eight minutes: six points on perfect shooting (2-of-2 from the field, 2-of-2 from the line), 3 rebounds and 2 blocks. Memphis has closed the gap to 42-40.
Memphis junior forward Will Coleman is trying to single-handedly get the Tigers back into the game. He sandwiched a pair of slam dunks around a blocked shot of Aubrey Coleman, and Memphis has cut the Cougars lead to 42-37 with still 13 minutes to play.
This isn't the way to make a comeback. The Tigers have now gone more than 10 minutes without hitting a basket. Their last successful shot from the field came with 6:05 left in the first half. Not surprisingly, Houston still leads by nine points.
If the Tigers are going to win this game, they'll have to do something they have not done all season. The largest halftime deficit Memphis has overcome has been only five points.
The Tigers are getting crushed on the boards. Houston outrebounded Memphis 26-17 in the first half, 11-3 on the offensive end. Those rebounds have offset a 37.1 percent shooting performance by the Cougars.
Upset alert. Houston leads Memphis 36-27 at halftime. The Tigers have not been one-and-done in C-USA tournament play since 2004. Memphis is about to face its most important 20 minutes of the season.
Another game, another solid outing by Houston senior guard Aubrey Coleman, who already has 12 points, two rebounds, two steals and an assist. He is the primary reason the Cougars have built a surprising 34-25 lead a minute before halftime.
So far, it looks like Tom Penders was correct in saying that his team is dangerous because they have nothing to lose in this tournament. The Cougars jumped out to a 28-22 lead, and still lead by five late in the first half.
A creative bit of taunting from the Memphis band. When the Cougars step to the free-throw line, the band sings the 1980s song, "We're Not Gonna Take It," but changes the words to, "You're not gonna make it. No, you ain't gonna make it."
Maybe they're on to something. The Cougars have missed three of their first seven free-throw attempts.
Not only does Memphis have a 12-game winning streak in C-USA Tournament play, but the Tigers have won 15 of their past 16 tournament games, with the lone loss coming by one point in the 2005 championship game.
Even more impressive, every one of those 15 victories has been by double digits. The Tigers' closest contest during that stretch occurred last year, when they won their quarterfinal game against Tulane by 10 points.
You can take the tournament out of Memphis, but you can't take Memphis out of the tournament. A good showing of Memphis fans have made the trip to Tulsa. This game will definitely have a homecourt feel for the Tigers.
We have one final note from Wednesday's action. The soaring one-handed jam thrown down by Tulsa guard Justin Hurtt came in No. 3 on SportsCenter's Top 10 Plays of the Day. It originally was No. 2, behind only a 360 catch-and-slam by the Denver Nuggets' J.R. Smith. But both those plays were bumped down a notch late last night to make way for E.J. Singler's tip-in at the buzzer that allowed Oregon to force overtime, and eventually win, in its Pac-10 tournament opener.
If you haven't seen Hurtt's dunk, check it out in the next few hours on SportsCenter. It might very well end up being the play of the C-USA Tournament, though we still have seven more games filled with exciting plays that could top it.
Welcome back for the second day of the GMC Sierra 2010 C-USA Basketball Championship. We have four exciting quarterfinal games on tap for today, beginning with a cat fight between the Houston Cougars and the Memphis Tigers at noon. The teams split the regular season match-ups by almost identical scores, with Memphis winning at home 92-77 and Houston gaining revenge two weeks ago 92-75.
Today's deciding third game should be a good one. Houston head coach Tom Penders has proclaimed his squad to be Dead Men Walking, meaning they have nothing to lose and therefore are a dangerous opponent. The Tigers, meanwhile, have the NCAA Tournament squarely in their sights, having closed with seven victories in their past eight games.
The lone loss during that stretch? To Houston.
There is a lot on the line in this game and the three to follow. UAB plays Southern Miss at 2:30 p.m., Tulsa tussles with Marshall at 6:30 p.m. and top-seeded UTEP finally hits the court at 9 p.m. to take on UCF.
So settle back and get ready for another day great of C-USA basketball tournament action.