When I found out that the UTEP men's basketball team would be playing Auburn in the third place game of the Diamondhead Classic, I could not contain myself. An opportunity for current UTEP head coach Tim Floyd to face the man he replaced in Tony Barbee. Despite winning a C-USA regular season championship at UTEP and advancing to the NCAA Tournament, Barbee left the school for a multi-million dollar offer at Auburn. His departure was so sudden, he never returned to El Paso to say goodbye. Most of the times coaches leave for other jobs, they rarely choose to play their former school. However, the stars were in perfect alignment for the third place game of the Diamondhead Classic.  

UTEP and Auburn were on opposite ends of the tournament bracket. Thus, in order for the Miners to meet their former head coach, both teams needed to mirror each other in the Hawaiian tournament. That is exactly what happened. UTEP first defeated Clemson and the lost to Kansas State. Auburn knocked off Hawaii and then lost to Long Beach State. Those sequence of events set up the Miners and Tigers on Christmas Day, which was a matchup more anticipated than any NBA regular season tipoff.

UTEP Miners men's baskeball

Both teams played even basketball through the first half. The Miners held an early lead, but Barbee's Tigers stayed within striking distance. An Auburn run midway through the second half put UTEP down by five points, but the Miners never panicked. Instead, they battled back behind a break-out performance from John Bohannon and a huge second half from Michael Perez. The 83-76 final score was a sweet one for UTEP fans and showed us all how well coached the Miners are. Meanwhile, Barbee's harsh comments about his team after the loss to UTEP were not surprising.

"I am disappointed in my team," said Auburn coach Tony Barbee in quotes released by the school. "All we talked about and all we worked on -- 80 percent of our practice -- has been defense and toughness and defense and toughness and discipline on that end of the floor. We are the most undisciplined defensive team I have ever coached -- ever -- and it bothers me. I have to do a better job."

Floyd was not afraid to use gimmick defenses like a box-and-one or triangle-and-two, and both worked well throughout the tournament in Honolulu. The offensive emergence of sophomores Perez and Bohannon will give UTEP's youth some much needed support. The more I watch this Miners team play, the more impressed I get with their effort. They do not even resemble the group of players that lost four of their first five games this regular season. Despite this being labeled a "rebuilding season," this group of basketball players will provide plenty of excitement and hopefully the Don Haskins Center starts to fill up with Miner Maniacs.