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Miners and Lobos renew rivalry starting in 2016

The rivalry is back on. Starting in the 2016-17 season, the UTEP and New Mexico men’s basketball teams will play each other in regular season play for the first time since 2009. The Miners will square off with the Lobos at “The Pit” in Albuquerque on Dec. 3, 2016, followed by a Dec. 2, 2017 game at the Don Haskins Center.

With the rivalry at its peak during the late ‘80s to early ‘90s, the UTEP-UNM game was one of the biggest rivalries in the old Western Athletic Conference. The Miners had a long list of foes in the old WAC, which included Wyoming, Brigham Young and Utah.

However, the UTEP-UNM was only outdone by the Battle of I-10, UTEP vs. New Mexico State.

Dating back to 1929, the Miners and Lobos have played each other 141 times, with UNM leading the all-time series 76-65.

The last game between both teams was on March 15, 2011 in Albuquerque. The Miners were coming off a heartbreaking loss against the University of Memphis in the Conference USA tournament final, which denied them a spot in the 2011 NCAA tournament after a stellar regular season.

The Miners had to settle for the National Invitation Tournament, along with the Lobos. The Miners were handily beaten 69-57. Unknown to the public at the time, this would be the last time both teams would play each other. A riff at the pregame shoot around between then-UNM head coach Steve Alford, now UCLA’s head coach and current UTEP head coach Tim Floyd brought the series to a halt.

Despite some disparaging comments from Alford made to the Albuquerque Journal in 2011, Floyd stayed firm in his belief that both teams should keep playing.

“With the economics the way they are, with the short distance of travel, with the great interest of this series through the years, the game means something to the people in the stands,” Floyd told the Albuquerque Journal in 2011. “I think we should play every year until they take the air out of the basketball.”

Alford eventually left UNM for UCLA in 2013, but the rivalry was still in a drought. Now out of nowhere, the rivalry has resumed, but for how long is uncertain. In a brief press release, UTEP athletics stated, “additional games are possible in subsequent seasons”.

What is certain is how the relationship is mutually beneficial for both teams.

To go along with the relatively short distance, heralded history and noteworthy basketball, is what the game does for both teams in terms of national rankings.

Both teams playing each other will boost their respective Basketball Power Index (BPI) and Rating Percentage Index (RPI). BPI and RPI are college basketball’s two most coveted team ratings systems that determine how good a team is beyond the simplistic win-loss record.

In a brief statement from UTEP athletics, UNM head coach Craig Neal, who is entering his third year as head coach, expressed excitement for the renewed rivalry. Neal’s Lobos are coming off an uneventful 15-16 record last season.

“I am excited to add UTEP to our schedule,” Neal said.  “They are a historic and regional rival, and I know our fans are excited for this series as well.”

Tim Floyd, who was an assistant coach under the legendary Don Haskins, experienced the rivalry as far back as 1978 and he knows the rivalry will bring an added excitement to the upcoming seasons.

“It would be hard to argue that the most memorable games in our school’s history have been against The University of New Mexico,” Floyd said through UTEP athletics.  “Our fans, and I trust theirs, will welcome this series resuming.”

Whereas the renewed rivalry brings excitement for fans of past generations, the rivalry is lost on most UTEP basketball fans today and the players. The Lobos have not played in El Paso since Jan. 2, 2008. No player on the 2015-16 UTEP men’s basketball team has ever played against the University New Mexico.

As long as the interest is there for the fans and coach Floyd’s tenure with UTEP continues, then expect years of UTEP-UNM games to come.

Javier Cortez may be reached at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Javier Cortez, Staff Reporter
Javier Cortez is a staff reporter for The Prospector. He is a senior multimedia journalism major, with a minor in English Rhetoric. Javier was born and raised in El Paso, TX and before coming to UTEP in the summer of 2012, he graduated from Irvin High School, where he was a four-year varsity tennis player, a member of student council and a class officer for his graduating class. He has also worked for the El Paso Diablos as a sports information intern on their media relations team. In his spare time, Javier loves to write columns for the perspectives section in the school newspaper—whether it is sports, pop culture, religion, and society he loves to write about it. To go along with writing, Javier loves reading anything about sports, religion, and non-fiction.
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Miners and Lobos renew rivalry starting in 2016