REPORTER
Bill Knight

There can be no rivalry in the country -- not one of any substance or length -- closer than the UTEP-New Mexico State basketball duels.

Not one.

The two schools have met 204 times, beginning in the 1914-15 season, and the series is dead solid even: UTEP 102 wins, NMSU 102 wins.

Of course, when the two schools get together tonight in the Pan American Center, those other 204 games will be far into the rear-view mirror ... even the last meeting, a tense 55-54 UTEP win on Nov. 28 in the Don Haskins Center.

It will be all about the moment.

Sure, the other games -- those conference games -- mean more. UTEP is tied for third place in Conference USA, New Mexico State is in third place in the Western Athletic Conference. The Miners will bring a 14-11 overall record and a 7-5 C-USA mark into the nonconference faceoff. The Aggies are 18-9 overall, 12-3 in the WAC.

"Hopefully, we play hard, and I know (the Aggies) will play hard," UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. "They are playing exceedingly well, they play well in the Pan American Center and they have won 12 of their last 13 games."

UTEP is coming off a disappointing 45-39 loss at Southern Miss. NMSU has been off this week, but the Aggies are coming off a dose of disappointment of their own, falling 73-69 at Utah State last Saturday, a loss that put the skids on a 12-game winning streak.

Sophomore guard Daniel Mullings leads the Aggies, averaging 14.3 points a game. Bandja Sy, a senior forward, averages 11.3 points and a team-high 7.3 rebounds a game. And then there is the massive freshman center Sim Bhullar, a 7-5, 355-pounder, who is averaging 10.1 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game. He is playing a lot more minutes than he was when the Aggies visited El Paso in November.

"He posed a matchup problem the first time we met," Floyd said of Bhullar. "He got it right where he wanted it. He missed six point-blank shots and if he had made any one of them, we would have lost."

UTEP, of course, has added two key players since that first meeting. Guard Konner Tucker, who then was out with a broken bone in his right hand, is averaging 11.6 points a game for UTEP and gives the Miners their deadliest 3-ball threat. Guard McKenzie Moore, who was finishing his required year of sitting out because of the transfer rule, now does a bit of everything for the Miners, averaging 9.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game.

"I think this (the rivalry) will be a good experience for me," Moore said. "But we're trying to look at this as just another game, a chance to get a win and get back on track for conference games and the conference tournament. This is definitely a rivalry game, though. It's big to our fans, big for the program."

When told that one Aggie had said they have better personnel at every position, Moore just shrugged and said, "We'll just go out and play hard and let everything else play out on the court. Both teams have good coaches, both schools have good programs."

Junior John Bohannon has had the most experience in this rivalry. He will be going against the Aggies for the sixth time in his career.

"It's a rivalry game so everything else goes out the window," Bohannon said. "It will definitely be a tough game. Las Cruces and El Paso ... this goes way back."

And, rivalry or not, UTEP is trying to find a way to put points on the board. Twice this season -- first at Tulsa, then Wednesday at Southern Miss -- the Miners have held their opponents to 45 points. And lost. What do the Miners need to do?

"Make shots," Bohannon said with a shrug. "The last game, we had a lot of open looks we usually knock down."

It is only a nonconference game, no season riding on the brink as it was the last time these two teams met this late. NMSU edged UTEP 92-89 in overtime on March 20, 1995, in the NIT. These two old rivals will get right back into the conference chase next week.

But, for tonight, for a moment in February, it will be all about that rivalry ... all about that 205th meeting.

Bill Knight may be reached at bknight@elpasotimes.com; 546-6171. Follow him on Twitter @BillKnightept


Today's game
  • What: UTEP"vs. New Mexico"State in the Battle of I-10 men's basketball game.
  • When: 7 p.m. today.
  • Where: Pan American Center in Las Cruces.
  • Radio: KOFX 92.3-FM; ESPN Deportes 1650-AM (Spanish).
  • Tickets: Start at $7.
  • Information: 747-5234; utepathletics.com.