The College Basketball Invitational field has been whittled from 16, to 8, to 4, to 2, and now it's just Oregon State and UTEP left standing in just the second year of the tournament. The two teams will play a best-of-three series that starts in Corvallis tonight, then moves to El Paso for game two and game three, if necessary.
The Beavers (16-17) and the Miners (22-12) will meet up for the third time in school history. The teams split the two previous meetings, both in the ‘80s. The Miners topped the Beavers in Corvallis, 64-49, on Feb. 4, 1986. Oregon State returned the favor with an 83-72 win over UTEP in the 1986-87 season opener in El Paso.
In the first matchup between the schools, Dave Feitl scored 24 points on 12-of-15 shooting and the Miners shot 65 percent from the field -- the eighth-best single-game figure in school history. Jose Ortiz had a monster game for Oregon State in the El Paso rematch, scoring 33 points, while freshman Gary Payton contributed 16
points in a reserve role. The Beavers made 56.2 percent of their shots. Tim Hardaway led the Miners with 17 points.
UTEP is participating in its fifth postseason tournament in the last six seasons. The Miners played in the NCAA Tournament in 2004 and 2005, the NIT in 2006 and the CBI in 2008. This is the 27th postseason appearance for the Miners, who have played in the NCAA Tournament 16 times and the NIT on nine occasions.
UTEP won the 1966 national championship and, to this day, remains the only Division I-A school in the state of Texas to capture a national title in men's basketball... they'd also become the first to take home the CBI crown, if they can get by the Beavers. The Miners' three wins in this year's CBI are their most in a postseason tournament since a five-game run to the barrier-breaking 1966 national title.
Stefon Jackson leads the UTEP attack with 24.1 points per game while Randy Culpepper is averaging 16.3 points per contest for the Miners. Jackson is averaging 28.7 ppg in the CBI while shooting 50.8 percent (30-for-59) from the field, 42.9
percent (6-for-14) from outside and 80 percent (20-for-25) from the line.
Jackson, who is hovering around fifth in the nation in scoring, is a big-time scoring threat who likes to push the tempo, along with his counterpart, Randy Culpepper. The duo was a main part of the reason why the Miners simply overwhelmed Richmond with speed and athleticism last Wednesday in the CBI Semifinals.
Jackson is the all-time scoring leader in Conference USA, and Culpepper just recently broke the 1,000 point threshold.
The Miners have defeated Nevada, Northeastern, and Richmond to get to the finals, and the Beavers have defeated Houston, Vermont, and Stanford.
Stefon Jackson hit a jumper with 4.4 seconds left, giving UTEP a 79-77 win at Nevada in the opening round of the CBI on March 17 in Reno. Jackson scored 26 points in the game, making 10-of-18 shots and tying his season high with four three-point field goals.
Jackson scored 26 points and Randy Culpepper added 21 as UTEP blew past Northeastern in the CBI quarterfinals, 75-66, on March 23 at the Don Haskins
Center. UTEP turned a 16-12 lead into a 27-12 bulge with an 11-0 run in the first half, and was in control the rest of the night.
The Miners dispatched Richmond, 81-69, in last Wednesday's semifinal at the Robins Center. Jackson scored 34 points and Culpepper added 19. UTEP did not trail after taking a 7-5 lead on a three-pointer by Gabriel McCulley four minutes into the game.
For more CBI information, check out my interview with Richmond newspaper writer John O'Connor from over the weekend.
Tipoff is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. on HDNet.