Tigers Steal a Dance
Nearly 12,000 raucous and vocal fans were ready, willing, and able to cheer the UTEP Miners into their second straight NCAA tournament appearance. For 39 minutes the plan was going to script, but the Memphis Tigers refused to go down without a roar. Memphis cut a double digit lead to one and took their first lead of the game with seven seconds left. Tournament MVP Joe Jackson calmly nailed two free throws to give the Tigers a 67-66 victory.
Christian Polk's last second shot fell tantalizing short, and the Memphis Tigers stormed the court as mounds of confetti fell from the sky. In an instant the building went from rock concert loud to stunned silence. The game was a microcosm of the Miners season. From game one against Pacific to the C-USA tournament finale, UTEP had a tough time putting teams away. Up ten with six minutes to go, the Miners had a golden opportunity to put the Tigers out of their misery.
There are always two sides to the story, and you have to credit Memphis for never giving up. Despite being one of the youngest teams in the nation the Tigers played with poise beyond their years in the second half. They tightened up their defense, and hit plenty of clutch baskets.
For the second straight year the Miners will leave their postseason fate up to the NCAA tournament selection committee. Last year the Miners were the last team in despite a 15-1 conference record. Even with 25 wins, UTEP is unlikely to return to the big dance. They clearly pass the 'eye ball' test, but fail on paper. Their rpi, strength of schedule, and quality wins will not impress the committee enough to warrant an at large selection. The only silver lining in an otherwise gloomy morning at the Haskins Center is that UTEP will appear in the postseason for the seventh time in the last eight seasons.