Pirates Open Conference Play Tonight At UTEP

couresty: ecupirates.com

EL PASO, Texas - East Carolina officially begins its 10th season of Conference USA play Thursday, traveling to UTEP for the first time since the 2007-08 season. Tipoff from the Don Haskins Center, the site of this year's C-USA Tournament, is set for 9:05 p.m. ET.

The Pirates will face a team other than Marshall to open its league slate after battling the Thundering Herd in five-straight league lidlifters. Additionally, ECU will open its conference schedule on the road for the first time since the 2007-08 campaign.

The Pirates enter the contest after splitting a pair of games at the Iowa State Cyclone Challenge, downing Prairie View before falling in a hotly-contested 89-85 affair the next night.

The Pirates are 6-7 overall and have won two of their last three, including a 71-63 victory at Hawai'i which improved their true road record to 3-1. Leading scorer and rebounder Kim Gay picked up All-Tournament honors at the Iowa State Cyclone Challenge last week, averagining a double-double with 14 points and 11.5 rebounds per game. She currently owns season marks of 11.3 points and 6.5 boards. Junior Ashley Clarke also boasts double figures in scoring with a 10.8 average while also pacing the team in assists (43) and steals (40). East Carolina scores 74.8 points a game on average, a C-USA second-best mark, but gives up nearly as many at 72.3. The Pirates also lead the league in total points, three-point field goals, free throws made and turnovers forced.

UTEP has jumped out to an 8-4 record this season, with wins against New Mexico and archrival New Mexico State. The Miners play very well at home, having captured seven of their nine appearances at the Don Haskins Center. UTEP sports a balanced offense with six players averaging 7.8 or more points per game - led by Gloria Brown's 10.8. Kayla Thornton is the top rebounder for the Miners, pulling down 7.7 per contest, including a total of 43 on the offensive end. UTEP is an accurate shooting team, firing at 42.4 percent from the floor, 36-percent from beyond the arc and 69.7 from the free throw line. On the glass, the Miners are out-rebounding opponents by 6.8 per game, tops in C-USA, and also lead the league in assist/turnover ratio.

THE LAST MEETING (Feb. 11, 2010)...
The East Carolina women's basketball team continued its great success at Minges Coliseum, debunking UTEP's attempt to break its home winning streak with a critical come-from-behind 64-54 victory. The Pirates improved to 18-6 overall and 7-4 in C-USA play with their school-record 12th-straight home win. Chareya Smith tied her career high with 14 points while Jean Best and Kelly Smith scored 10 each. Kim Gay nearly recorded her third double-double of the year, netting nine points to go along with a team-best nine rebounds. The Miners led 27-19 at halftime.

Today's contest marks the sixth in a series that began in 2006, UTEP's first season as a member of Conference USA. The Pirates have a 4-1 lead and have taken two of the last three meetings. ECU defeated the Miners last season in Greenville, 64-54, but had to rally from an eight point halftime deficit to do it.

East Carolina is in its 10th year as a basketball member of C-USA. Starting in 2001, the Pirates became eligible to compete for the league title after contributing 17 years as a constituent of the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA). Four years ago, ECU finished third in the regular season standings, its highest ranking since joining the conference. The Pirates also notched their first league tournament title with 79-70 triumph over Rice in the 2007 championship game at the Reynolds Center in Tulsa, Okla.

The Pirates have fared well in their opening game of the C-USA slate the last nine seasons, winning six of those affairs and two of the last three.

Since Conference USA split into East and West divisions before the 2005-06 campaign, ECU has fared much better against its eastern neighbors. In five seasons, the Pirates have recorded a 42-27 (.609) mark against the eastern members while producing a 16-29 (.356) ledger vs. the western side.

The Pirates took on some of the nation's best this season in nonconference play. According to realtimerpi.com, ECU's slate ranked as the 51st-toughest in the country. Among the teams the Pirates faced were Maryland (9), UCLA (18), Charlotte (44) and UNC Wilmington (65). East Carolina also suffered close losses to Hampton (112) and American (115) while picking up victories over Prairie View A&M (119) and Western Carolina (133).

It seems like the Pirate bench gets deeper with each passing season and is an extension of the starting five. There is some truth to that statement, as East Carolina's bench has outscored its opponents' benches in 61 of the last 77 games and 10 of 13 this year.

In hitting 12 three-point field goals against Virginia Union, the Pirates established a new program single-game record. However, just six days later, ECU did one better with 13 vs. Massachusetts then did it again against Florida A&M in Iowa. With four triples against Florida A&M, senior Allison Spivey took over second on the program career chart and is now 11 away from sole possession of first-place.

With wins over Western Carolina, VCU and Hawai'i, ECU has started 3-1 away from home for the second-straight season. That will prove important entering conference play as home teams accrued a 62-32 record last year in league play.

ECU owns the top two offensive outputs among C-USA teams this season with 102 points against Virginia Union and 97 vs. Massachusetts. The Pirates also boast one of the two highest single-game assist totals with 28 against the Minutewomen.

With the win against Prairie View A&M, East Carolina is just seven wins away from recording its 600th victory in program history.

In the latest release of the national rankings, ECU finds itself among the top 50 in a few categories. The Pirates are 22nd in steals per game, 35th in scoring offense and 40th in turnover margin. Individually, Ashley Clarke is 24th in steals per game.

ECU returns home for the first time since Dec. 8, hosting league rival Memphis Sunday. The Pirates were 3-0 against the Tigers last season, including a 73-66 triumph in the C-USA Tournament quarterfinals.

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