By Duke Keith,

The picture continues to clear for the UTEP Miners.

After suffering their first set-back in Conference USA play in that 100-97 triple-overtime thriller at UAB, the Miners have spelled it out for the rest of the conference. Regular season and post-season, the road to any post-season dancing is running through the defending C-USA champs again in 2011.

UTEP put the clamps on the Rice Owls and their leading scorer Arsalan Kazemi, holding the Iranian forward to just two points en route to a 66-43 win.

That good defense led to good offense, time after time after time Saturday night, as the Miners had their way with the Owls. Randy Culpepper, as usual, but also UTEP big men John Bohannon and Claude Britten.

Even Wayne Portalatin, who picked up two fouls in his first nine seconds of action, was able to get in the scorers column, going two-for-two while trash-talking with Rice forward Suleiman Braimoh, to the amusement of his teammates on the bench.

UTEP had 11 steals and forced 16 turnovers in the win to improve to 15-4 overall, and the Miners 3-1 mark co-leads along with Southern Miss.

And Julyan Stone, who is just now getting the recognition he deserves in his senior season, finished the night with five assists. His fifth and final assist of the night broke the Conference USA all-time assists record.

As for any deeper meaning gleaned from tonight’s game, there is none as UTEP dominated Rice defensively and offensively, keeping the Owls winless in conference play at 0-4.

If there’s anything to be taken from this game, it’s that Tim Floyd and his coaching staff continue to tighten things up, bringing in more and more of what has been a winning philosophy throughout Floyd’s career.

Fans can gripe about not having point totals on that big old scoreboard and other little things, but the Miners seem to be taking care of the big things. Despite being undersized and out-rebounded, which they were again tonight, they were tenacious defensively.

Which would sure make that guy the Miners' arena is named after a happy man.

Don Haskins' protege was satisfied, himself...

(courtesy: UTEP Athletics, see and hear more at the Miners website,