Baylor wins NCAA Championship to join UTEP as only Texas National Champions


Courtesy of UTEP

Members of the 1966 Texas Western national championship team accept the championship trophy.

Michael Cuviello, Sports Editor

For 54 years, the UTEP Miners sat alone as the only Division 1 basketball program in the state of Texas to win a National Championship. On Monday night, the Baylor Bears changed that with a dominating 86-70 win over the Gonzaga Bulldogs, spoiling the hopes of loyal Miner fans that have a yearly ritual of rooting against all other state teams. 

In the half a century since the Miners won the 1966 National Championship, only three other Texas teams have previously made it to the championship game. In 1983 the University of Houston Cougars and its team nicknamed “Phi Slama Jama” featuring Hall of Famers Akeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler were heavy favorites as a 31-2 No. 1 seed versus a 25-10 sixth seeded North Carolina State Wolfpack. 

With 44 seconds left in the game, the score was knotted at 52 points apiece, as the Wolfpack held for the final shot. Derek Wittenburg threw up an air ball caught by Lorenzo Charles, who slammed it home for the last-second victory.  

The very next season, the Cougars returned to the championship game in Seattle, Washington against the Patrick Ewing led Georgetown Hoyas minus a graduated Clyde Drexler. Both teams were considered a very even match and anticipation was high for the battle of the two legendary centers, Ewing, and Olajuwon. Georgetown dominated from start to finish and the game was never in doubt as Houston lost 84-75. 

It would be another 25 years before another Texas team would make it to the national championship in 2019. The Texas Tech Red Raiders came into the tournament as a third seed facing top seed and second nationally ranked University of Virginia Cavaliers. 

Texas Tech took the Cavaliers into overtime with the game tied at 68 as the Miner lone championship claim seemed in perilous circumstance. Tech scored five straight points early in the overtime with back-to-back baskets from the Red Raiders’ Matt Mooney. With 2:45 left in the period, UTEP’s sole championship seemed in great jeopardy. Unfortunately, over the next two minutes, the Red Raiders were unable to score while Virginia ran off 11 straight points. Texas Tech was turned back in its pursuit of the elusive championship losing 85-77. 

In 2020 COVID-19 stopped any chance of a  Texas team having any shot of winning a championship as the season was ended with no tournament or champion. 

This season Baylor was able to do what no other team had done in the state since the Miners. Against Gonzaga, the Bears started the game off, leaving little doubt that it was destined to be champion the game’s first nine points. The Bears led by up to 19 points throughout the first half and kept a double-digit lead going into the half 47-37. 

All Miner hope of a strong comeback by the undefeated Zags, who had been ranked No. 1 all season, never materialized. The closest the Zags could come to the Bears was nine points for a brief moment in the second half with about 14 minutes remaining. That faint hope to get back in the game would last only about 30 seconds as Baylor jumped back up to a double-digit lead. Baylor would go on to win in a dominating fashion by 16 points. 

So now the late great Don Haskins has Baylor coach Scott Drew in rare company as Texas National Championship coaches. While for Baylor and the rest of Texas, it is a great achievement, it is a bittersweet victory for the Sun City and all UTEP fans. While Baylor can also lay claim to also having a championship, there will always be only one first and the legendary 1966 championship Miners will live on forever with the impact that the team had on basketball.  As an added bonus, how many national championship teams in the state of Texas also have a theatrical film made about its achievement. So, we are still one up on the Baylor Bears.  

Michael Cuviello may be reached at [email protected] and @dlockz on Twitter