EL PASO, Texas -- John Calipari didn't mince words after Memphis (No. 6 ESPN/USA Today, No. 5 AP)
extended two impressive winning streak: He's glad he doesn't have to come back to El Paso for two years.
Freshman Tyreke Evans scored 25 points to lead the Tigers to a 70-63 victory over Texas-El Paso on Saturday, extending the nation's longest winning streak to 18 games with the Tigers' 53rd consecutive Conference USA win.
"We toughed it out against a very prepared team that came out with an excellent game plan," said Calipari, who coached against Tony Barbee, his former assistant. "After the game I had 25 text messages saying, 'tough win.' That was a war."
Evans was 9-of-13 from the field, including 3-of-4 from 3-point range, for the Tigers (24-3, 12-0), who last lost in December. Memphis' last conference loss was to UAB on March 2, 2006.
Evans, who had just nine points and one assist in the first half, described the second half as something of a different game for him.
"I wasn't looking to shoot in the first half, I was looking to catch and pass," he said. "In the second half I came out firing, the shots were there."
Evans said he's felt more comfortable down the stretch this season, taking big shots now that he wasn't in the early part of the season.
"I wasn't close to making those kind of shots and now I've gotten into a rhythm," he said.
Memphis led by 11 points with 10:53 to play after a lackluster first half that ended with the Tigers trailing by three after shooting just 32 percent.
Stefon Jackson had 24 points for the Miners (16-10, 7-5).
Evans, who picked up his fourth personal foul with 8:02 left, scored eight points in the last 7 minutes.
Barbee, who has never beaten his former boss, made no excuses for the narrow loss.
"Give them credit, they did it all right," Barbee said, adding the Miners simply didn't make the right plays at the right time in the second half.
When the teams meet next season it will be in Memphis.
Jackson, the conference's all-time leading scorer, said the Miners have to put the game behind them and look at the final four conference games.
"We don't want a moral victory because we hung with Memphis," Jackson said.
Despite trailing for nearly the entire second half, UTEP kept it close, coming within four points after a deep 3-pointer from reserve Randy Culpepper, who had 13 points, with 37 seconds left.
Jackson, who played all 40 minutes, tried cut that lead to two with 16 seconds but missed from 3-point range.
Evans put the game out of reach with two free throws with 12 seconds left to play.
Memphis didn't get its first field goal until Antonio Anderson hit a jumper more than 6 minutes the first half.