What to know: Northern New Mexico College at UTEP men's basketball

The UTEP men's basketball team plays its final home game in two weeks, its final home game before opening Conference USA, when it takes on Northern New Mexico College in a Saturday afternoon game in the Don Haskins Center.

The 2 p.m. tip will be streamed on CUSAtv and carried on 600 ESPN El Paso. Tickets range from $9.15 to $45.

More:C-USA men's basketball standings

UTEP's Jamari Sibley (12) looks to pass the ball at a game against NMSU on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022, at the Pan American Center in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
UTEP's Jamari Sibley (12) looks to pass the ball at a game against NMSU on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022, at the Pan American Center in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Who is Northern New Mexico College?

Good question.

The Espanola, N.M. school has been extraordinarily busy, if not overly productive. The Eagles, who are an NAIA independent competing under the aegis of the Continental Athletic Conference, are 3-10. Much of that was against schools up a level or two; many of their losses are to NCAA Division II teams.

Guard Kelly Connor leads a team that has played 20 players this season at 15.6 points a game. The team has three Mexicans on its roster.

The Continental Athletic Conference consists of 19 NAIA independents, including the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, and the University of the Virgin Islands. The CAC does sponsor a postseason basketball tournament.

What is the key for UTEP?

The Miners are coming off their first bad game of the season, the 95-70 loss at New Mexico State, so the issue is how they bounce back. Obviously they are prohibitive favorites and this truly is one where they are looking in the mirror.

They could be getting some reinforcements, as Jon Dos Anjos and Malik Zachery are set to return from knee injuries. On the other hand, UTEP is going to shut down Otis Frazier for at least two weeks as he recovers from a knee injury.

Areas of concern, where UTEP needs to make strides, are rebounding and shooting, and it needs to get its defense back on track after giving up 95 points to New Mexico State.

The biggest priority for the Miners is staying healthy and giving every player a chance to play.

What UTEP said

"We're really excited to get back on the court and bounce back, learn from the last game and build on that loss," forward Jamari Sibley said. "We needed more adversity. We're going to come out here and work on the stuff we need to work on."

Coach Joe Golding expounded on that.

"The focus is trust the journey, right?," he said. "It's a long season, it's the first time we've laid an egg and haven't played well all year, so it's back to our fundamentals of who we are. It starts with toughness, it starts on the defensive end. So (Friday's practice) was a lot of that, and obviously a little bit on the offensive end of valuing the basketball, getting more pace and movement to our offense and getting better shots.

"We had won five games in a row with a new team, we got really comfortable, we went over there (to New Mexico State) and got our butts kicked. The lesson learned is, if we're not who we are, if we don't continue to work hard, keep a chip on our shoulder, have some toughness and grit to us and bring that to the floor every night we can get beat. That's the lesson in it. Sometimes lessons are hard to learn but sometimes they are good for you."

Bret Bloomquist can be reached at 915-546-6359; bbloomquist@elpasotimes.com; @Bretbloomquist on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on El Paso Times: Northern New Mexico College at UTEP men's basketball what to know