EL PASO, Tex. — As a student at UTEP for almost three years, I have never witnessed a basketball season as successful as the one this year’s UTEP team accomplished.
For the first time in five years, the Miners’ regular season victories earned them an NCAA tournament bid.
This season was a wild ride for the team as well as the fans. The Miners closed out the regular season with an impressive (15-2) record at home this year and an impressive (24-5) overall.
Studying, working a part time job and running/publishing an online journal (minerdigs.net) did determine which games I could and could not attend, but I tried to make the “key” games.
The season started like most Miner seasons do with the usual “cupcake” games against schools with less than stellar players and less than good over-all records. The Miners came out of the gate with a hot 4-0.
To see the Miners play in person for the first time this year, I had to travel to Las Cruces and New Mexico State University (NMSU), a school 40 miles west here. I was rewarded with a 21-point UTEP victory, the largest point margin ever in Las Cruces in a series that has lasted almost half a century.
The UTEP fans in attendance cheered dunk after dunk, all to the dismay of their bitter rivals’ fans. The Miners were able crush the Aggies even without Derrick Caracter, a highly touted five-star transfer from the University of Louisville who had to sit out a year due to NCAA transfer regulations. I left Las Cruces with great expectations for this Miners team.
UTEP Miners: 79 New Mexico St. Aggies: 58
Obviously, like in any particular season you have your bumps and bruises. The Miners had theirs the week after beating NMSU on the road. They introduced Caracter to the lineup and bam the wheels came off the hinges. The NMSU Aggies, (yes the same team we had destroyed the week prior) had come into the Don Haskins Center and stolen a game away on “our” home floor. The student section looked in shock as the Miners lost. This was going to be a long season.
UTEP Miners: 80 New Mexico St. Aggies: 87
The Miners did lose another game at Ole Miss and I became entangled in my part time job again and wasn’t able to attend a game for a while. The Miners ended up taking care of business, only dropping three more games (BYU, Houston, Texas Tech) before I was able to go to a game again. The Miners were (10-5) and looking at a rough year.
If you have been outside of El Paso you probably are unaware of what happened next for the Miners. The Miners went on a 14 game winning streak and I was there for most of the home games!
It all started with the University of Southern Miss game. The Miners lost three out of their last four and the Miners faithful thought the sky was falling and the season was lost.
So my friends and I went to games thinking “ Is this it?” does the Miner team fold? Southern Miss keeps it close both at half and through the game.
Miners: 56 Southern Eagles: 49
The Miners would then go on the road and pull off the “then” upset of the Memphis Tigers who were riding a 64 win streak in Conference USA and also took care of UCF in Orlando, Florida.
Again work interfered with the season, hey but you gotta work to survive. I missed the Houston game in El Paso and some others.
UTEP: 65 Houston: 58; UTEP: 100 East Carolina: 76
For the two last games I saw as a Miner fan they will be with me regardless of what we did in the post season.
For the second straight year the Miners were playing on National TV (ESPN) from the Don Haskins Center. No way I was letting work get in the way of me making it to a TV appearance.
The Miners came out battling the Hurricanes and the student section at the Don Haskins Center was as crazy as I’ve ever seen it.
UTEP: 78 Tulsa: 70
The last game of the season was the best for a UTEP fan. I was able to hang out with my friends, tailgate, paint our hair and faces and be able to celebrate a conference USA championship. The Miners came down from 14 points down and were able to win the game on a last second dunk by who other than the transfer forward… Derrick Caracter!
Miners: 52 UAB: 50
In all, it was a great season and I was glad to be a student and have these memories to keep. Go Miners!