There are only five other division I schools within 400 miles of Las Cruces, New Mexico. In 1951, the Border Conference moved from the newly organized College Division of the NCAA to the University Division. The schools now known as Northern Arizona, Arizona State, Arizona, New Mexico, New Mexico State, Texas-El Paso, Texas Tech, and two schools no longer participating in Division I, West Texas A&M and Hardin Simmons, were a conference that made competitive and geographic sense. But New Mexico State is no newcomer to conference realignment. The very next year, New Mexico moved to the Skyline Conference; in 1956, Tech joined the Southwest Conference; and in 1962, the Border Conference dissolved as Arizona and Arizona State joined New Mexico and three other schools (BYU, Utah and Wyoming) in founding the Western Athletic Conference. They were joined by UTEP and Colorado State in 1967.
Since their 1962 petition to join the WAC was denied, the Aggies have been conference nomads. After a few independent years, New Mexico State has belonged to the Missouri Valley, the PCAA (now Big West), and the Sun Belt, before finally getting that long-desired WAC invitation. It came after the UNM Lobos and UTEP Miners left the WAC for the Mountain West and Conference USA, respectively. Through all these years, the rivalries between New Mexico State and closest neighbors UTEP and New Mexico have continued and flourished without regard to conference affiliations. I know of no non-conference pairings other than Aggies-Lobos and Aggies-Miners that are always played twice every year, home-and-home. On Wednesday, Andrew Bolte did a nice job of introducing the 800GP to the Rio Grande Rivalry between the Aggies and the New Mexico Lobos. This evening is the first installment of the Battle of I-10, New Mexico State versus Texas-El Paso.
I believe the Aggie-Miner rivalry is the stronger of the two rivalries. Only 40 miles apart, the two schools cannot even agree on the historical record between them: the Miners report that the Aggies lead the rivalry 101-100, but the NMSU game notes have the Aggies leading 102-98. Either way, it is very close, and has been for many years. Their first meeting was an Aggie win in 1915. The final game of the 1968 Dedication Tournament for NMSU's Pan American Center was a two-point win for the Aggies; the teams played three times that season, two years after the Miners' national championship, and two years before the Aggies' appearance in the Final Four. One of my most vivid memories of this rivalry is of a red-faced Don Haskins, the UTEP coach (read Glory Road if you need an introduction), marching to center court at the Pan Am bellering (as only Haskins could) at an official, who promptly gave Haskins a technical foul, then promptly rescinded it as the sixth Aggie player on the floor tried to sneak onto the bench behind Aggie coach Lou Henson. This is always a war.
Aggie forward Wendell McKines @Wen_Mckines31 provided some extra bulletin board fodder for this year's first matchup. On November 2, NMSU won its exhibition game with Division II Eastern New Mexico 115-64. The next night the Greyhounds went to El Paso, and beat the Miners 75-64. McKines responded with several disparaging tweets about the Miners and their fans, which have El Pasoans in an uproar; their stated goal: keep Wen under ten. In their first two games, Miner head coach Tim Floyd, a long-time Haskins assistant, has coaxed some improvement from his team which has only three returning lettermen from last year. The only returning starter, senior forward Gabriel McCulley, is injured and not expected to play tonight. The Miners are 1‑1 on the season, losing to Texas-San Antonio (in a RedLineUpset) and beating UC-Riverside.
An hour-and-a-half before the Aggies' home opener, a new court for the Pan American Center was unveiled. Like the original court and its successor, it is a parquet floor similar to the historical floor of the Boston Garden. Like the court that replaced the original in 1987, the new floor is known as Lou Henson Court, and NMSU alumnus, coach for two stints, and athletic director Lou Henson was present for the ceremony.
The Aggies' Roadrunner Revue pep band got the crowd of nearly seven thousand up and ready for the game; UTEP orange was sprinkled around the arena, but mostly evident was Aggie Crimson. The game started with a false start on the opening tip, two three pointers by Aggie sophomore guard Christian Kabongo, and a quick timeout after 31 seconds by UTEP coach Tim Floyd. Unfortunately for the Aggies, hitting the first two threes convinced them to use that approach for a while. By the first media timeout, the Aggies were two for seven from outside the line, and the game was tied at eight, as the Miners were patiently working for good shots. The emotional nature of the game for the Aggies showed twice in the middle of the half, with technical fouls assessed to center Tshilidzi Nephawe for jawing after a monster dunk and to wing Tyrone Watson for complaining to the officials about a perceived foul not called. Also in the middle of the half, the Miners brought in a forward with one of the best basketball names around, Hooper Vint.
UTEP took its first lead at 21-19 with 9:20 to go in the half, and went on a strong run pushing the lead to seven with eight minutes to go, mixing in a three point shot and an old fashioned "and one" three point play. After the under eight media timeout, the Aggies tightened up their man-to-man, and started pressing their height and experience advantages, tying the game at 30 on Wendell McKines free throws. As the Aggies took the ball inside, they were fouled repeatedly and McKines and point guard Hernst Laroche each scored six free throws before the intermission. A Hooper Vint dunk as time expired brought UTEP within four at halftime, 42-38. The Miners offensive discipline paid off with 58% shooting in the first half, keeping them in the game despite getting ten rebounds fewer than the taller Aggies.
After a marriage proposal shown on the jumbotron during halftime (looked like she said "yes"), the second half started with a strong run by the Aggies sparked by their defensive intensity. The man-to-man full court pressure, which the Aggies have used throughout their first three games, caused a few turnovers, and created some transition opportunities. NMSU used a matchup zone to shut down the Miners' outside shooting. Over the last eight minutes of the first half and the first eight of the second, the Aggies moved from seven behind to nineteen ahead.
UTEP had one final strong run, keyed by their own intense zone defense and good inside play by John Bohannon, Cedrick Lang and Hooper Vint. The Miners were aided by some attempted Aggie showboating like missed alley oops and behind the back passes into the seats. The lead was only ten at the under four media timeout, but the Miner fouls to stretch out the clock were for naught as the Aggies made most of their free throws down the stretch. "Keep Wen Under Ten" did not work in either points (23) or rebounds (13). The final score was New Mexico State 89, Texas-El Paso 73; a second Red Line Upset win for the Aggies and a second Red Line Upset loss for the Miners. As they do every year, these teams meet again in the Don Haskins Center on December 11, and as usual, it will be a war.
at NEW MEXICO STATE 89, TEXAS-EL PASO 73 11/19/2011
TEXAS-EL PASO 1-2 (0-0) -- J. Washburn 4-9 1-1 9; J. Streeter 1-8 3-4 6; D. Campbell 3-8 4-6 11; J. Bohannon 5-5 1-2 11; H. Vint 2-5 4-4 8; C. Lang 4-4 2-2 10; M. Moore 2-4 1-2 5; C. Cooper 0-2 1-2 1; M. Perez 2-5 1-2 5; J. Ragland 2-5 2-2 7. Totals 25-55 20-27 73. NEW MEXICO STATE 3-0 (0-0) -- W. McKines 5-13 12-15 23; H. Laroche 2-7 9-10 15; C. Kabongo 6-12 0-0 15; T. Watson 2-5 1-2 5; D. Mullings 2-2 0-0 4; H. Rahman 0-1 0-4 0; B. Sy 6-10 0-1 15; T. Nephawe 3-8 6-7 12; R. Dixon 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-58 28-39 89.
Three-point goals: UTEP 3-13 (J. Streeter 1-2; M. Perez 0-3; D. Campbell 1-3; J. Ragland 1-2; H. Vint 0-2; J. Washburn 0-1), NMSU 9-18 (W. McKines 1-3; H. Laroche 2-3; T. Watson 0-2; B. Sy 3-4; C. Kabongo 3-6); Rebounds: UTEP 24 (C. Lang 6), NMSU 41 (W. McKines 13); Assists: UTEP 13 (J. Streeter 5), NMSU 16 (C. Kabongo 6); Total Fouls -- UTEP 28, NMSU 22; Fouled Out: UTEP-J. Bohannon; NMSU-None.