OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Guard Willie Warren had a recommendation to help Oklahoma fix some poor defensive habits over the holiday break.
"We don't even need a break, to be honest with you," Warren said after the Sooners' 89-74 loss to UTEP on Monday night at the All-College Classic. "Our break needs to be in Norman in the gym."
Randy Culpepper scored a season-high 27 points and Christian Polk added a career-high 17 points as the Miners built a big lead in the first half and never let the Sooners get within single digits again. Oklahoma (8-4) got within 10 points twice in the second half, including on Willie Warren's free throw that made it 79-69 with 2:09 to play.
Culpepper answered with a three-point play at the opposite end, and then helped UTEP (7-2) close the door with four free throws down the stretch.
"Don't get me wrong. Oklahoma is a great team. (Coach) Jeff (Capel) does a great job with his team. But when you're playing freshmen and you're counting on freshmen, there's some growing pains you've got to go through," UTEP coach Tony Barbee said. "He knows that, and obviously we know it as well because we've gone through some growing pains the past three or four years."
Warren came back with 26 points after scoring a season-low four points with four turnovers in Oklahoma's last game, but it wasn't nearly enough for the Sooners to win their seventh straight game.
Freshman Tommy Mason-Griffin added a career-high 20 points, Tiny Gallon scored 13 and Tony Crocker had 10 points. It was only the second loss for Oklahoma in its last 17 games at Oklahoma City's annual holiday basketball showcase.
Julyan Stone had 15 points and tied his season high with eight assists and Arnett Moultrie had 10 points and eight rebounds for UTEP. Derrick Caracter, the former Louisville forward who transferred after several run-ins with Rick Pitino and an unfulfilled promise to jump to the NBA, had 11 points and 10 rebounds for his third straight double-double.
It was the Sooners' second loss this season to a Conference USA team that exposed their defensive flaws. Houston beat Oklahoma 100-93 at the Great Alaska Shootout.
"This is a year when you could potentially have five or six teams (in the NCAA tournament). It's that good of a league," Barbee said. "We've got to continue to do our job as a league in our nonconference schedule to build that resume."
Capel said he mistakenly thought the Sooners had improved on defense since that loss to Houston, their last in a three-game losing streak.
"Effort's a big part of defense, period. You have to have pride in being a good defender individually and hopefully that can lead to your team developing an identity defensively, and it has to be a consistent identity," Capel said. "I think one of the things that happens to us, and it happens to a lot of teams - especially young teams, is when you're not making shots, it's very deflating."
Capel said that's exactly what happened during the Miners' big run.
Moultrie hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key to break a 20-all tie midway through the first half, and UTEP started pulling away with a 14-0 run. Polk hit a pair of 3-pointers, and Culpepper finished the surge with a two-handed putback jam and a driving layup to give the Miners a 37-22 lead with 5:20 left before halftime.
Jeremy Williams' jumper from the right side pushed the advantage to 19 before Warren hit a jumper from the foul line to draw Oklahoma within 47-30 at halftime. UTEP was 8 for 12 from 3-point range in the first half.
"We got off on a bad foot defensively, and it just kind of spiraled," Capel said.
The Sooners put together an 11-2 surge after Caracter was whistled for a technical foul for swatting Crocker's shot and mouthing at him after the whistle. Mason-Griffin and Warren hit 3-pointers in the stretch, and Crocker's free throw with 10:36 remaining got Oklahoma within 62-52.
Polk ended that comeback try with a jumper from the right elbow and had another to start a spurt of six straight points to restore UTEP's cushion to 75-58.