A year after UTEP and New Mexico went down to the wire in Albuquerque, the Miners will entertain the Lobos in the Don Haskins Center on Saturday night.
Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. and fans are encouraged to wear white as the Miners complete a string of three rivalry games in eight days.
“We know that they have really adjusted into a unique style and they’re fullcourt pressing all over the floor and we’ll be ready for that,” UTEP interim coach Phil Johnson said. “We’ve got one day to get ready for a really good basketball team. We talked to a lot of coaches that have played them or seen them, and they have all been really impressed with New Mexico, particularly with how well they shoot it and their pressure is unique in the fact that it’s all game, start to finish.”
New Mexico (3-4) is making its first visit to El Paso since January of 2008. The Lobos have a new coach (former NM State head man Paul Weir) and a host of new players.
Only one starter returns in senior guard/forward Sam Logwood (15.7 ppg). Junior guard Chris McNeal, who leads the Lobos with 16.6 points per game, was a JUCO All-American at Indian Hills last season. The Lobos average 11.9 three-point field goals and 31.9 three-point attempts per game led by McNeal (22 threes) and junior guard Anthony Mathis (20).
The Miners dipped to 1-6 with an 80-60 loss to NM State on Thursday. The good news is the month of November is over and UTEP will play every game in December (seven total) in the Haskins Center for the first time since 2012. The month will conclude with the tip-off of Conference USA play against North Texas (Dec. 28) and Rice (Dec. 30).
Last year the Miners rebounded from a 2-13 start to go 12-6 in C-USA. Johnson acknowledged that the experience gained a year ago could be beneficial towards turning things around in 2017-18.
“Maybe, particularly for the guys that were here through that last year,” he said. “They have to feel like there is hope. And that’s something I did leave them with [in the post-game meeting on Thursday]. There is hope. We did it a year ago and lost a bunch of games this time of year, and we made some changes and we got a lot better. Part of that getting better last year was when we got Matt Willms healthy, along with some other things. He obviously will give us a boost and a lift when he comes back. But we’re going to have to learn to play without him. He can’t play 40 minutes a game, and we can’t always count on him to be everything. Not any one guy is going to be that good of a player for us. We’ve got to play together and we talked about sharing the ball and sharing everything. We talked about sharing in the loss, sharing in the victory, sharing the ball, everything that we do as a team. And we’ll stay together.”
Following Saturday’s game, the Miners will have one game in 16 days – plenty of time to get better on the practice floor.
UTEP and New Mexico will be meeting for the 143rd time on Saturday. The Lobos lead the series 77-65, but the Miners hold a 40-27 advantage in games played in El Paso.
Tickets start at just $8 and are available by calling (915) 747-5234.