File Photo by Andres Acosta | El Paso Herald Post
Both the Miner men and women’s basketball teams tip off their respective seasons Wednesday at the Don Haskins Center.
The women’s opener against NM State will tip-off one hour earlier at noon MT, while the men’s opener versus UTPB will tip-off two hours earlier at 5 pm MT.
First off, the UTEP women’s basketball faces cross-border rival New Mexico State to open its 2020-21 season Wednesday at 1 p.m., following an abrupt end to its run in the 2019-20 C-USA Tournament due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
UTEP Head Coach Kevin Baker said the tipoff itself marks a victory for both the Miners and Aggies in a year of such unpredictability.
“Our team is just hungry to play an opponent,” Baker said. “In most years, UTEP and New Mexico State are rivals. But, this year, we are in this fight with COVID together and we worked hard to set this game up and play. There were 1,000 challenges along the way, but we will play. In some ways, we both win.
“This has been a very strange and awkward 2020 thus far. So, I would imagine the season will be the same way. However, our team has always proven resilient and we will keep that trend alive this year.”
The Miners and Aggies are regular foes having met 23 times and UTEP holding the upper hand in the all-time series with a 15-8 record and winning seven of the last ten matchups. In their most recent meeting, then-senior Ariona Gill posted a double-double (13 points, 11 rebounds) in the Miners’ 65-45 rout of the Aggies to sweep the season series.
New Mexico State finished last year’s shortened season with a 12-18 (8-8 WAC) record and a first-round upset over four-seed UT Rio Grande in its conference tournament. The Aggies lost their top scorer and rebounder Gia Pack (18.0 points per game, 9.7 rebounds per game) to graduation.
Then, a few hours later – and after months of uncertainty – the 100th season of UTEP men’s basketball will tipoff Wednesday night as it plays host to UT-Permian Basin.
UTEP Head Coach Rodney Terry and his squad, after months of practice, will finally see outside competition rather than each other.
“This will be our 18th week and we’ve had our guys back on campus for an extended period of time,” Terry said. “Usually we’ve played a couple scrimmage games, and maybe an exhibition game to get ready for the start of the season. We go straight into game one, but we’ve had plenty of time to prepare. Our guys right now are ready to play against anyone. It really doesn’t matter, they just need some competition outside of themselves. Our guys have done a great job during this pandemic and with all the new protocols that we’ve had to do this year with the testing and keeping each other safe. But we’re eagerly excited about the start of the season come Wednesday night.”
The Miners are coming off a 17-win season in 2019-20, which was the biggest improvement of any team in Conference USA, and most wins in four seasons. UTEP also returned to the C-USA Championships for the first team in two years.
“I’m excited about his team,” Terry said. “We’ve had a chance to work with these guys for 18 weeks now. When you recruit guys, you have a certain feel for them. Once you’re with them day in and day out, you really get a great feel for the intangibles they bring to the table. We have some newcomers who came in and will be impact guys for us this season.”
The Miners last faced UTPB on Nov. 6, 2018, Terry’s first game as the program’s head coach. UTEP defeated the Falcons, 90-63, in the Haskins Center. Odigie also opened his UTEP career that night, scoring 23 points and grabbing nine boards.
Last season, UTPB finished 16-16 and 9-13 in the Lone Star Conference. The Falcons lost four of their top five scorers from a season ago. Senior Jordan Horn ranked second on the team last year, averaging 13.7 points per game. Horn averaged 2.0 assists and shot over 48 percent from the field. Senior Adam Rivera also returns after averaging 8.2 points per game and 5.3 rebounds per contest. UTPB Head Coach Josh Newman brought in a trio of key transfers. The newest Falcons include 6-foot-5 guard Trevion Lamar from Georgia Southern, 6-foot-9 big man Malik Brikat from Howard College, and 6-foot-4 guard Israel Barnes from Weber State.
UTEP leads the all-time series 3-0
The contest can be heard on 600 ESPN El Paso with “The Voice of the Miners” Jon Teicher starting his 40th season behind the mic. The Miners and Falcons will also be streamed on CUSA.tv.
Due to social distancing guidelines and COVID-19 protocols, the Don Haskins Center has a very limited capacity this year for fans and is currently sold out. At this time, single game tickets will not be made available for sale. It is recommended that fans who are still interested in potentially attending games sign up on the men’s basketball season ticket waitlist. Should seats become available, individuals on the waitlist will be contacted and provided with more information at that time.
Additionally, fans are encouraged to participate in the virtual “Defend The Don” campaign where they can receive exclusive Miners merchandise, gifts and virtual experiences while supporting the UTEP men’s basketball program. For questions and more information, fans should call (915) 747-UTEP.