Finishing combat with a loss is usually a difficult reality to accept. The true fanatic will frequently hope for victory despite any concrete evidence that points to the contrary. Wide-eyed optimism is the essence of following your favorite team because the game is played to be won. A close loss, however, is always even tougher to swallow.
For UTEP Miners basketball players and fans alike, facing the Rams of Colorado State has meant enduring only almost-wins for consecutive seasons. In the first two games of a four-game series between the teams, UTEP lost by a combined margin of 7 points. The first Miners defeat was a 53-56 heart-breaker in El Paso, with the second being a 58-62 nail-biter in Ft. Collins last season.
Until Tuesday night, rekindling of a series between the two old Western Athletic Conference rivals hadn't gone as well as the Miners hoped. The greatest aspect of sports rivalries, though, is that the most intense competitors relish at the opportunity of redemption. For UTEP players, head coach Tim Floyd and 7,137 fans in attendance, sweet redemption it was.
UTEP set the tone of the contest at the tip-off by taking a 6-0 early lead. The first half saw the score tied twice with the fourth, and final, lead change of the entire game occurring at the 3:50 mark as emerging 3-point ace Justin Crosgile did his work to give the Miners a 31-28 advantage. UTEP never looked back.
Texas Western legend Willie Worsley was honored at halftime, his jersey bestowed on the Miner-faithfull's sacred rafters of the Don Haskins Center, and UTEP opened the second half gates on a 9-0 run to take a 51-35 lead. Fittingly, against a program the Miners have played so closely the last two seasons, UTEP could not definitively put the game out of reach for the Rams.
The Miners had their lead cut to a low of 65-62 with 4:58 remaining in the contest, but UTEP's dominant rebounding advantage of 53-36 proved to be the difference down the stretch as it allowed the team to gain confidence in its shots. John Bohannon and emerging star Vince Hunter both finished with double-doubles, while McKenzie Moore, Julian Washburn and C.J. Cooper ended with 17, 16 and 15 points, respectively.
Ice-veined free throw shooting allowed the Miners to solidify the match in the final minute and UTEP came away with a 82-74 revenge victory.
With one game down in a two game home stand against NCAA tournament teams from a year ago, the Miners look ahead to Saturday's clash with archrival NMSU as they seek consecutive redemptive wins in response to last Friday's loss to the Aggies. Tip-off is at 7:05 in the Bear's Den.
Coach Tim Floyd talks about the victory.