UTEP and Arizona — although less than 400 miles apart — have not played each other since the 1995-96 season. They have played 89 times overall.
The best matchup out of those 89 games occurred in the 1987 NCAA Tournament at McKale Center. Four future NBA players and a major-leaguer participated in the first-round game: Arizona’s Sean Elliott, Tom Tolbert and Kenny Lofton, and UTEP’s Tim Hardaway and Antonio Davis.
Steve Kerr was on the Arizona bench. He sat out that season after tearing an ACL the summer before the 1986-87 season started.
The game also featured two Hall of Fame coaches — Arizona’s Lute Olson and UTEP’s Don Haskins.
It was played at McKale Center instead of a neutral site because at that time the NCAA allowed such a thing. The announcers in the ESPN Classic re-broadcast above were vocal about Arizona getting the calls because the game was played at McKale.
After three of UTEP players fouled out, Hernell (Jeep) Jackson led the Miners to a 98-91 victory, scoring nine of his 23 points in overtime.
“Our whole team has heart, so when you lose one player, you don’t lose any heart,” said Jackson, a senior guard was quoted as saying by the Associated Press. Three months later, Jackson died of cardiac arrest that may have been caused by cocaine.
If Arizona held on to beat UTEP, the Wildcats would have faced Olson’s former team — Iowa — in the second round.
UTEP trailed, 78-73, with 50 seconds left in regulation but rallied to force the overtime on a jumper from the top of the key by Chris Blocker with one second remaining. Refs originally called Blocker’s shot a three-pointer, which would have given the Miners the victory in regulation.
But the officials consulted and ruled that Blocker’s left foot was one the three-point line. His two-point shot sent the game into overtime at 79-79.
UTEP opened a 92-87 lead in overtime. Arizona, which had one of Arizona’s worst records under Olson at 18-12, closed to within 92-89, but UTEP (25-6) made six straight free throws in the final minutes.
“It’s been the story of the year for us,” Olson was quoted as saying by the AP. “It’s been could’ve and should’ve and would’ve, but we couldn’t get the job done.”
Six Arizona players scored in double figures, including Elliott, who led the Wildcats with 26 points. Craig McMillan and Tolbert each scored 15, Anthony Cook scored 13, Lofton had 12 and Joe Turner scored 10.
Blocker made a free throw and Jackson connected on a three-point shot to cut the Arizona lead to 78-77 with 25 seconds left.
Lofton then made one of two free throws with six seconds remaining before Blocker’s shot at the buzzer sent the game into overtime.
The teams renew their rivalry tonight at McKale Center. Arizona will honor the home-and-home arrangement at Don Haskins Center during the 2014-15 season.
“First of all, we’re really appreciative that Arizona will play us in this home-and-home series,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd is quoted as saying on the school’s Web site. “We think that the game will be great for our young players this early in the season. It will help us in league play as we move forward.
“I have great respect for their coach and players, one of whom I recruited very heavily at USC in Solomon Hill,” Floyd said. “I know that the atmosphere will resemble what we see in our league at Memphis. Every person on the floor for us will be challenged at his position by one of the better talents in the country.”
Arizona’s Brandon Ashley was a teammate of UTEP freshman center Matt Willms at Findlay Prep last season. Grant Jerrett is a former teammate of UTEP sophomore guard C.J. Cooper at Lutheran HS in La Verne, Calif. Cooper’s uncle Eric Cooper played at Arizona. Eric Cooper Jr. is a Class of 2014 Arizona recruit.
In the last meeting in 1995, Arizona won 90-70 at McKale Center. Reggie Geary had 21 points and seven assists to lead the Wildcats. Arizona shot 66.7 percent from the field (32-of-48), including 8-of-13 from three-point range and limited UTEP to just 40 percent (24-of-60) accuracy. Arizona outscored UTEP 49-34 in the second half. Ben Davis (14), Corey Williams (14), Miles Simon (13) and Joe McLean (12) also finished in double figures.
Site publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner