Jan. 29, 2014
RUSTON - Looking to stay atop the Conference USA standings, Louisiana Tech faces a big road test on Thursday night against a big UTEP squad in El Paso, Texas with a tipoff time of 8:05 p.m. CT inside the Don Haskins Center.
LA Tech (17-4, 5-1 C-USA) is currently tied with Southern Miss for the league lead with UTEP (14-6, 4-1 C-USA) only a half-game back.
The Bulldogs come in having won nine of their last 10 games after notching two 20-plus point victories last week against Charlotte and Marshall.
Kenneth Smith was the driving force as the junior point guard registered a season-high 13 assists in both contests while only turning the ball over three times.
"He sees things before they happen," said head coach Michael White. "He's got a really, really quick mind. He has great periphery. Those things, along with his hands, the great hand-eye coordination that he has, make him a terrific passer. In my opinion, [he is] one of arguably the best in the country."
It was not just his passing skills that were on display, he showcased his shooting ability by scoring a season-high 17 points versus the Thundering Herd which was a big reason for his earning the Conference USA Player of the Week award.
"He has always just picked his spots," added White. "With Raheem [Appleby] being out, when he is open he will take advantage. He has just gotten good looks and he has always taken really good shots. He has capitalized. He is a kid that has been in the gym a ton since he has been here and he has improved his stroke."
Much of Speedy's emergence has to do with his return to Speedy form. Nagging injuries plagued the St. Petersburg, Fla. native early in the season but he has found a different gear.
J. Johnson has had the biggest jump, going from 6.3 points per game with Appleby to 13.6 points per game without him.
This depth is a huge reason why LA Tech still ranks first in scoring offense (84.9) in the league and seventh nationally.
The speed and athleticism of the Bulldogs will encounter a monster of a lineup on Thursday in UTEP. The Miners start an NBA-like lineup with four guys over 6-feet-8-inches tall.
"What stands out about UTEP is how tall they stand," said White. "They are enormous. Their two guard could play center for us and he is really good. They are extremely sound on both ends. They are very, very disciplined with their unconventional lineup.
"UTEP is playing as well as anybody in our league. It is amazing what they have done with their adversity with losing guys with the lineup that they play. They are going to be really hard to beat at home."
And just like LA Tech, UTEP has won nine of its last 10 games and is picking up steam despite the midseason loss to three players. One of them, McKenzie Moore, was the team's leading scorer at the time of his dismissal.
However, UTEP has posted a 5-1 record since then without scoring more than 68 points in any game.
Picking up the slack for the Miners has been John Bohannon who has six double-doubles this season and Vince Hunter who has been the team's leading scorer in three of the past four games.
The length of the Miners is a key reason why they are second in the league in scoring defense (64.2) and first in field goal percentage defense (37.9).
Tim Floyd is in his fourth season with the Miners. Floyd graduated from Louisiana Tech in 1977 and played for the Bulldogs one year after transferring from Southern Miss.
This will not be the first time he has coached against his alma mater. When Floyd was at the helm at New Orleans, UNO and LA Tech were conference rivals in the America South Conference.
For four seasons (2001-05), the Bulldogs and Miners duked it out twice a year, and in the case of the 2003-04 season, three times while members of the Western Athletic Conference.
UTEP holds an 8-7 series advantage and has won five of the last six meetings.
The contest can be heard live on the LA Tech Sports Network on KXKZ 107.5 FM, KJVC 92.7 FM and KTKX 92.9 FM. The pregame show will start at 7:30 p.m. CT with the "Voice of the Bulldogs" Dave Nitz doing play by play. Fans can also access live audio of the game via the Internet by subscribing to LA Tech All-Access at www.LATechSports.com.
Twitter users can also receive live in-game updates by following @LATechHoops.