Battle of I-10: A New Chapter in the Rivalry Starts Tuesday for UTEP and NMSU
The contentious Battle of I-10 rivalry between UTEP and NMSU will reach new heights on Tuesday night at the Don Haskins Center when a new chapter of the matchup takes place.
Let's be honest, with the Aggies boasting a nine-game win streak and having swept the Miners through the last four seasons, the rivalry has been one-sided for recent years. NMSU leads the series record 113-103, while UTEP has not beaten their rivals since 2014.
But enter Rodney Terry to the rivalry, the second-year head coach for the Miners who assembled a talented roster with more depth than the program has seen in years.
NMSU head coach Chris Jans is coming off back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances, and as a program, the Aggies have reached nine postseasons in 14 years. UTEP is searching for its first NCAA Tournament since 2010 and its first postseason tournament since 2015 (NIT).
Last year was a little taste of how the next chapter of the rivalry could turn. After being blown away 96-69 in Las Cruces, UTEP went down to the wire with the Aggies at home, falling 62-58 in the final minutes.
Still, you could feel a shift in the rivalry, now seeing potential wars in the Terry vs. Jans regimes.
"We can't compare [UTEP] to last year's team," Jans shrugged. "It's a whole different animal in terms of the quality players they have at the program. The thing about it is for them, really not 'new.' Most of the guys practiced last year, had a year under their belt in terms of expectations... Doesn't even resemble last year's team and I can understand why they are really excited this year."
"Tremendous history between the two schools and the rivalry, Terry said. "We really want to win, I'm sure they really want to win. We know we are going to compete against a really well-coached team. This is a program that already knows how to win. They have been in postseason play nine of the last 14 years. We're trying to build on that and find what it takes to win right now. But I have a good group of young guys that have worked extremely hard on and off the court. They are excited to compete against a team that we feel has another NCAA Tournament on their horizon."
Both teams enter this matchup with swift wins under their belts in the season opener. The Miners will regain guard Nigel Hawkins, who was out against N.M. Highlands with a concussion. NMSU, on the other hand, has more injuries on their squad than they hoped.
Both AJ Harris and Clayton Henry are out indefinitely for the Aggies, while Terrell Brown (hip/groin) and Ivan Aurrecoechea (ankle) are questionable with injuries.
"We didn't have our players last year," Terry joked.
"Early this time of year, you're going to lose some guys," Terry explained. "Whether you're nicked up there, little injury there—we had a starter out last game in Nigel Hawkins. It's always next man up this time of year. Those guys have seven seniors on that ball club that have won at a high level and two of those seniors won't play. They have quality players, quality depth and I look for those guys to be as strong as they were a year ago in terms of the product they are going to put on the floor."
"If you take a [AJ] Harris out of the lineup and you put [Trevelin] Queen in the lineup, Queen's a guy that can stretch the defense and shoot the basketball as good as any kid in the country," Terry said. "It's not a real big dropoff. When they lose a guy, they can throw another guy in there. They are an extremely deep ball club."
UTEP's last win in the series came on Nov. 22, 2014, where NMSU led as much as 15 points in the second half. An 11-1 run and back-to-back Vince Hunter 3-pointers led the Miners back into the game. UTEP was able to win the game at the charity stripe and survived NMSU 77-76.
Tuesday night, UTEP looks to snap NMSU's win streak, while the Aggies hope to make it 10 straight against the Miners.
Simply put, it will be an all-out war.
"If you look at the history of this game, there are 200-plus games we've competed," Terry said. "Right now, they have the upper hand, not only with the winning streak they have at nine but the even flow of this series. We've been very good and have had an edge in the series before. Now they have the edge in the series. There have been a lot of great coaches that have competed in this series along with great players as well. I think it means a lot to both communities. Being able to have this type of game against that type of opponent and having the close proximity is very unique and an opportunity for both of us this time of year. It will be a great, competitive game for us, we're looking forward to the challenge and it's going to be a great game tomorrow night."
Tipoff is set for tomorrow night at 7 p.m. We will have the pregame coverage starting at 6:30 and following the broadcast, we will have MinerTalk.