A Closer Look at the Memphis-UTEP Men's Basketball Series

USA TODAY Sports

The Miners and Tigers get ready to play their 10th and probably final match as conference foes. Memphis's dominance in Conference-USA is notorious, but here we take a closer look at the one team that has consistently given the Tigers a scare.

The Miners get ready to host the nationally ranked Memphis Tigers again this week and surely a lot will be written from the UTEP side about a so-called "Memphis-UTEP rivalry." I'm of the opinion that the Memphis-UTEP series is not really a rivalry, but I get the sentiment. Every conference we played in prior to C-USA featured teams that rose to become Miner rivals, teams that were our equals in fan base, players, coaches, and swagger. The Old WAC had BYU, New Mexico, Utah, and even Colorado State and Wyoming. The post-Mountain West WAC gave us classic battles between the Nick Fazekas-era Nevada Wolf Pack and the Omar Thomas-era Miners. I think headed into the new look C-USA, Miner fans assumed Memphis would fill that rival void and then some.

In reality however, UTEP has turned out to be more of a thorn in Memphis's side than a foe on equal ground. The Tigers have an NBA arena and consistently average more fans than UTEP has seats available at the Don. The Tigers' stretch of 64 straight conference games without a loss in conference play is something not even Coach Haskins's most dominant Miner teams could do. The Tigers have been so dominant, that it has probably cost the conference a few at-large bids throughout the years. The Tigers have had no real rivals since 2005. The Miners have had the Houston Cougars and the Tulsa Golden Hurricane. And yet, the Memphis-UTEP series has seemed a lot closer than the numbers indicate. Here we take a closer look at the individual games and numbers from the Miners-Tigers series.

First, here's a table that illustrates Memphis's dominance against the 2005-present Conference-USA

TEAM 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 OVERALL RECORD OVERALL WINNING PCT
vs UAB W, L, W W, W W, W W,W W,W W,W W,W W, ? 15-1 0.938
vs So Miss W, W W,W W,W,W W,W W,W W,W,W W,L W,W 17-1 0.944
vs ECU W W W W W W,L,W W,W W,W 11-1 . 0.917
vs UCF W W W W W W,W L,W,W W,W 11-1 . 0.917
vs Marshall W W,W W W W W,L W,W,W W,W 12-1 . 0.923
vs Houston W,W W,W,W W,W W,W,W W,L,L W W W 14-2 0.875
vs Rice W W W W W L W W 7-1 . 0.875
vs SMU W W,W W,W W,W L,W L W W 10-2 . 0.833
vs Tulane W,W W,W W,W W,W W W W W 12-0 . 1
vs Tulsa W,W W,W W,W,W W,W,W W,W L W W 14-1 0.933
vs UTEP W W W W L L,W L,W ? 6-3 . 0.667
Total 15-1 16-0 16-0 16-0 13-3 10-6. 13-3 14-0 129-14 0.902

The Tigers went an amazing 63-1 in their first 4 years in the new look league. The Miners have recorded the most victories against the Tigers (3) in the second-fewest attempts. The Miners are also the only team in modern C-USA to never have 80 points scored against them by the Tigers. UTEP team after UTEP team has headed into the Memphis game believing it had an edge other C-USA teams did not, whether that edge was veteran tournament players, a confident and motivated former Memphis assistant as head coach, Memphis-born and raised players looking to upset their hometown team, or now a veteran coach who seems to relish coaching in big games. If you add up all the scores from the Memphis-UTEP series you get very close average score of Memphis 65.3, UTEP 63.2. Below are a few snippets from each of the nine previous Miner-Tiger matchups as we head into Game 10.

February 22, 2006

UTEP Miners 56

#3 Memphis Tigers 66

PLAYERS:
UTEP

G Edgar Moreno

G Stefon Jackson

G Kevin Henderson

F Jason Williams

F John Tofi

BENCH: Miguel Ayala, Will Kimble

MEMPHIS

G Darius Washington Jr.

G Chris Douglas-Roberts

F Rodney Carney

F Shawne Williams

F Joey Dorsey

BENCH: Antonio Anderson, Robert Dozier, Kareem Cooper, Andre Allen

The 3rd ranked Tigers entered the game on a 13-game winning streak while the Miners were coming off of two straight Tourney appearances and had built their confidence up by touting themselves as Memphis’s only real challenge in the new conference. The game was hard fought for about 30 minutes before the Tigers’ superior depth and athleticism became too much. Miner fans will remember this game in particular not only because it was one of the first times UTEP wore their throwback Texas Western jerseys, but because UTEP’s veteran and steady leader John Tofi went down with a knee injury midway through the first half. At the time I was positive UTEP would have kept the game close and even won with Tofi playing the whole game. Looking back I'm not so sure, but it sure was an unfortunate injury.

March 1st, 2007

#7 Memphis 78

UTEP 67

PLAYERS:
UTEP

G Marvin Kilgore

G Stefon Jackson

G Kevin Henderson

F Maurice Thomas
F Victor Ramalho

BENCH: Jeremy Sampson, Malik Alvin, Dale Vanwright

MEMPHIS

G Willie Kemp

G Antonio Anderson

G Chris Douglas-Roberts

F Robert Dozier

C Joey Dorsey

BENCH: Andre Allen, Doneal Mack, Jeremy Hunt

This was the first in a fun series of teacher-mentor matchups between Coach Cal and Coach Barbee. UTEP had a mediocre squad to say the least in Barbee’s first year. That’s why it was so hopeful to see the Miners compete and hang with the 7th ranked Tigers late in the season. We knew Barbee’s Miners might have an advantage other teams in the conference would not moving forward. It was also the first visit to the Don Haskins Center for the Memphis Tigers and I remember the atmosphere was electric.

February 2, 2008

UTEP 64

#1 Memphis 70

PLAYERS
UTEP
G Julyan Stone

G Marvin Kilgore

F Stefon Jackson

F Tavares Watts

C Victor Ramalho

BENCH: Randy Culpepper, Gabe McCulley, Claude Britten, Jeremy Sampson

MEMPHIS
G Derrick Rose

G Antonio Anderson

G Chris Douglas-Roberts

F Robert Dozier

C Joey Dorsey

BENCH: Willie Kemp, Andre Allen, Doneal Mack, Shawn Taggart

Both teams picked up key recruits in the offseason that made them significantly better. For the Miners, that meant adding Barbee’s memorable first recruiting class of Stone, Culpepper, McCulley, and Britten to make UTEP an above .500 team. For Memphis that meant adding Derrick Rose and losing only two games in the season, one of which being a national title game they probably should have won. In any case, the young Miners went into the Forum to play the best team in the country on their home floor and came within 6 points of pulling off the upset. Notable also was the scoring duel between the two team’s star guard/forward combos: Jackson with 27 and CDR with 24.

February 21, 2009

#6 Memphis 70

UTEP 63

PLAYERS:
UTEP

G Julyan Stone

G Randy Culpepper

F Stefon Jackson

F Arnett Moultrie

C Claude Britten

BENCH: Jason Jones, Tavaris Watts, Gabe McCulley

MEMPHIS

G Tyreke Evans

G Doneal Mack

G Antonio Anderson

F Robert Dozier

C Shawn Taggart

BENCH: Roburt Sallie, Willie Kemp, Pierce Henderson-Niles, Wesley Witherspoon

With the addition of Moultrie and one more year of DJ Jackson, the tandem of Stone-RC3 began to really thrive this year. Once again the Miners played a top-10 ranked Tiger team and once again the Miners held their own. UTEP actually took a 3-point lead into the halftime break. The Tigers outplayed the Miners in the second half and left El Paso with the win. You could tell Barbee was getting tired of losing to his old boss. It would be the last time the two would face each other as rival coaches in C-USA however. It's interesting to note that Barbee's Auburn Tigers have not been able to keep games as close against Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats.

January 20, 2010

UTEP 72

Memphis 67

PLAYERS
UTEP
G Julyan Stone

G Randy Culpepper

F Jeremy Williams

F Arnett Moultrie

C Derrick Caracter

BENCH: Christian Polk, Myron Strong, Claude Britten, Isaac Gordon

MEMPHIS
G Doneal Mack

G Elliott Williams

G Roburt Sallie

F Wesley Witherspoon

F Pierre Henderson-Niles

BENCH: Willie Kemp, Will Coleman

2010 was the year Barbee’s Miners put it all together. Caracter, Moultrie and Williams comprised one of the most gifted Miner frontlines ever. Stone and Culpepper in the backcourt were an odd couple of sorts (6’6 lanky point guard who defended forwards and rebounded the ball extremely well, and a barely 6’0 electric gymnast who dunked over forwards), but their diverse skill-sets are something we already miss only a few years later. The Tigers on the other hand experienced a down year in Pastner’s first year. Barbee finally got his long-sought victory over Memphis and although it didn’t come against his former boss, it did come against the guy Memphis chose over him as Coach Cal’s replacement.

February 26, 2011

Memphis 47

UTEP 74

PLAYERS
UTEP
G Julyan Stone

G Randy Culpepper

G Christian Polk

F Jeremy Williams

C Claude Britten

BENCH: Gabe McCulley, John Bohannon, Isaac Gordon

MEMPHIS

G Antonio Barton

G Chris Crawford

G Charles Carmouche

F Tarik Black

F Will Coleman

BENCH: Joe Jackson, Wesley Witherspoon, Will Barton, DJ Stephens

Easily the most lop-sided win against Memphis in the modern C-USA era. Barbee left the cupboard full for Tim Floyd in his first year, and although Floyd had a different system, he had enough left even without Caracter and Moultrie to win 11 games in conference play. Pastner was still building his team in year 2. Both teams were challenging for the C-USA regular season title. I was in graduate school in Chicago when this game happened and watched it in a bar with a friend who grew up in Memphis and was confident his Tigers would win. The Miners dominated from start to finish. It was glorious.

March 12, 2011 (C-USA Championship)

Memphis 67

UTEP 66

PLAYERS

(same as last game)

I still don’t want to talk about this game.

February 18, 2012

UTEP 60

Memphis 58

PLAYERS
UTEP
G Jacques Streeter

G Michael Perez

F Julian Washburn

F Gabe McCulley

F Cedrick Lang

BENCH: John Bohannon, Jalen Ragland

MEMPHIS

G Joe Jackson

G Will Barton

G Chris Crawford

G Antonio Barton

F Tarik Black

BENCH: Wesley Witherspoon, DJ Stephens, Ferrakohn Hall

Just last year, a very young, inexperienced and average Miner team went into the Forum and stole a game against Memphis. As the lone leftover from the Memphis-born Miners, Gabe McCulley had 9 points and 12 rebounds. The Tigers actually held an 11 point lead at the half, but the Miners rallied in the second half.

March 8, 2012 (C-USA Tournament)

UTEP 47

Memphis 65

This was the largest margin of victory ever for Memphis over the Miners. The Miners kept to within 5 at the break, but the Tigers pulled away in the second half holding UTEP to just 21 points in the final 20. The Tigers advanced to the Conference-USA semifinals where they pounded UCF and then dominated Marshall in the Championship bout. It is true that UTEP has a 3-game regular season winning streak against the Miners, but this loss and the loss the previous year in the Championship game have ensured a 2-0 Memphis record against UTEP in post-season play.

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