The Mustangs are coming off a big win over Tulane, 66-48 – a game in which Papa Dia single handedly dominated. As for SMU's opponent, the UTEP Miners, they are riding a seven game win streak, including their 14 point victory over Tulsa, who currently sits in third place in the conference. The first meeting favored the Miners, who pulled out the 49-45 victory. So what can SMU do to come out victorious in their second meeting with UTEP this season?
Avoid Fouls, but Draw Fouls
In the first meeting between these two teams, UTEP won the free throw battle. In a game that was settled in the final minute, free throws played a huge part in determining the outcome. For SMU, they only got to the line eight times, and converted just four points from the charity strike. UTEP managed to create a total of 11 opportunities from the foul line, and obtained 10 points from these chances. SMU shot a measly .500% compared to UTEP's .909%. Although free throws may be overlooked in many games, they are vital during conference play, especially when it comes to the final minutes of a game. Since SMU's loss to UTEP, they have been improving with each and every game from the line. Here's a brief look at some of their recent games, regarding their percentage at the foul line:
Tulane: 19-20, 95%
Memphis: 33-38, 87%
UCF: 15-19, 79%
Houston Baptist: 20-29, 69%
Rice: 16-27, 59%
All of those games mentioned above resulted in an SMU win following their loss against UTEP. There was only one performance in which SMU shot below .500% and managed to win the game, and that was against North Carolina Central, where they hit 40% of their free throws, but made up for it with their 65% shooting from the field.
The Senegal native has become a common theme in many of the latest "Keys to Victory" previews, and deservingly so. He has grown into a dominant rebounder, as well as a consistent double digit scorer night-in-and-night-out. In SMU's first game against UTEP this season, Dia was not playing at the level that he is now. He only scored eight points, along with six rebounds against UTEP in the first meeting. Since then, Dia has been getting more dominant with every game. Take a look at Dia's improvement since SMU's loss against UTEP:
Eight games with double figure points, with only one game where he went under 10 points.
Shooting over 50% from the foul line in every game except one.
Averaging less than three fouls per game during the eight game span.
UTEP (17-5, 8-1) may be the early favorite over SMU (11-11, 4-4), but being a conference game, and the sudden emergence of SMU's basketball program, there is a good chance that the Mustangs could pull out the upset victory. SMU was labeled a heavy underdog against Memphis a couple weeks ago, and we all know how that turned out. As long as senior captain, Derek Williams, and Papa Dia can keep their hot streaks running, UTEP could be on the wrong side of the scoreboard.