Different paths for UTEP and Arizona basketball after meeting in 1987

Different paths for UTEP and Arizona basketball after meeting in 1987

A lot has changed since UTEP defeated Arizona in the first round of the 1987 NCAA Tournament on Arizona's home floor. 

Jeep Jackson led the Miners to a thrilling 98-91 win in overtime that day in Tucson. 

But Arizona has done a lot more winning than UTEP has since that fateful game. 

"Part of it was they were in different conferences," said Arizona Daily Star writer Greg Hansen, who has covered the sports scene in Tucson since 1982.  "You know, UTEP didn't get invited to the Pac-10.  That's the number one thing, obviously." 

ABC-7 General Manager Kevin Lovell was at the UTEP vs. Arizona game back in 1987.  He recently ventured to the Arizona campus again for the first time since the famous tournament game to report on Arizona's game against Oregon and ask local sports reporters what makes Arizona basketball so appealing to fans. 

"UTEP and the El Paso area has the population to support a team," said Tucson sportscaster Paul Cicala, who previously was the sports director at KVIA.  "So, I think there's potential.  But, I guess you've got to start winning before you can get the fans back."

But Hansen says Arizona's ability to win comes down simply to its ability to recruit.  And for that, he gives all the credit to the Pac-10, now the Pac-12, which added Arizona back in 1978.  By the end of the '80s into the early '90s, that recruiting advantage took hold.  

Meanwhile, in 1987 UTEP was still a member of the WAC.  

"Don Haskins still had about five more years as good as you can get," he said.  "But just being in that conference, you don't have the same opportunities to recruit."

UTEP did have one more run to the Sweet 16 in 1992.  But that pales in comparison to Arizona's 17 trips to the Sweet 16 or better since the teams met in 1987.  Arizona would make the Final Four the next year in 1988.  

Arizona even won the 1997 NCAA national title ten years after falling to UTEP in the Big Dance.  

Cicala, however, said the fans can really take the initiative and make UTEP an exciting place to play yet again.  

"I give a challenge to El Pasoans.  You've got to go on out there and support your local team, even when they're losing," he said. 

UTEP is currently 7-11 this season and 2-4 in Conference USA play.  Meanwhile, Arizona is 14-4 with a 4-1 mark in the Pac-12. 



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