UTEP (14-11, 7-5 C-USA) and NM State (18-9, 12-3 WAC) will hook up for round two of the 2012-13 edition of the I-10 rivalry on Saturday at 7 p.m. in Las Cruces.
It marks the latest meeting between UTEP and NMSU since March 20, 1995, when the Aggies squeezed out a 92-89 overtime win in a postseason NIT game in El Paso.
Saturday marks the latest date of a UTEP-NMSU game in Las Cruces since March 2, 1966. The eventual national champion Miners knocked off the Aggies in that one 73-56.
The Miners rallied for a 55-54 win over the Aggies on Nov. 28 at the Don Haskins Center, putting in motion a 13-7 run following a 1-4 start to the season. Both teams have had personnel changes since then, and UTEP coach Tim Floyd said he doesn’t know what to expect from the rematch.
“I have no idea till we get over there,” he said. “The road presents its own set of challenges and issues. You’d like to think we’re going to play hard. You know they’re going to play hard. They’ve played exceedingly well and they play well at the Pan American Center. Sometimes you get better through attrition. They are certainly playing with more confidence than they were when we saw them the first time. I’m not sure where we are. We didn’t make a lot of shots [on Wednesday at Southern Miss], and hopefully we’ll go shoot it better at their place.”
The Aggies have been idle since last Saturday, when their 12-game winning streak was snapped at Utah State, 73-69. NMSU is in third place in the WAC standings, three games back in the loss column to front-running Louisiana Tech.
NMSU is 12-1 and riding an eight-game winning streak at the Pan American Center. New Mexico handed the Aggies their only home loss, 68-63, on Dec. 19.
Sophomore guard Daniel Mullings leads NMSU, averaging 14.3 points per game. Senior forward Bandja Sy averages 11.3 ppg and a team-leading 7.3 rpg, and freshman center Sim Bhullar averages 10.1 ppg, 6.0 rpg and 2.1 bpg. Bhullar was averaging 5.0 points and 4.7 rebounds the last time the Miners met the Aggies on Nov. 28. His role has expanded since then.
“[Bhullar] was a matchup problem the first time,” Floyd said. “He was able to get the ball right where he wanted it and missed point blank shots. He missed six point blank shots right at the rim. I know he’d love to have them all back. If he makes one of them, we get beat. He’s an issue. He’s an issue for everybody that he will play at the college level because of his touch, his size and his width.”
The Miners struggled to put points on the board against the Southern Miss zone defense on Wednesday.
“I would expect that we might see more zone at the Pan Am Center than we’ve seen, just because we scored 39 points against it,” Floyd said. “I liked a lot of the shots that we got, but those shots didn’t go down. There weren’t many shots that I didn’t like. We probably would’ve liked to have gotten to the foul line more and gotten the ball inside more.”
Saturday’s Miner-Aggie matchup is the 204th in the series with both teams compiling 102 wins.
“I think [the rivalry] certainly means more to me than it does our players. They’re not fully indoctrinated into what this thing has represented over the years,” Floyd said. “Both teams were ranked year in and year out. Both teams knew that a sweep in the series would probably lead to the NCAA Tournament. Both sets of fans always understood that. This is a new group of players on both teams. The crowd hopefully will be like it was in the old days. I know that it has always meant a lot to the people in both communities.”