Senior C.J. Cooper scored a career high 22 points, including some clutch shots to go along with solid point guard play in leading UTEP over Xavier 77-73 to advance into the DIRECTV Wooden Legacy Championship game.
Both teams were neck and neck throughout, though it was Xavier who made the first move with an 8-0 run capped off by a three pointer from by Myles Davis that gave the Muskies an early 14-7 edge in the game's first seven minutes.
Earvin Morris came off the UTEP bench and scored 11 points in a two minute, first half span that gave UTEP a 22-19 lead sparked by a 9-3 spurt with just under seven minutes left.
Foul trouble plagued UTEP in final five minutes of the first half, and with Vince Hunter on the bench with three fouls, Xavier broke a 31-31 tie in the final 2:35 with a 7-2 run that gave Xavier a 38-33 lead at halftime.
Xavier shot 50 percent from the field in the first half, though the Miner length, and defensive intensity became a factor in the second half.
The Miners only allowed a pair of three pointers, and a dunk in the first seven minutes of the second half, and after a Lew Stallworth layup the Miners would outscore Xavier 18-8 in taking a 51-46 lead with 12:21 left in the second half.
Cooper would stretch the lead to 54-48 with a shot clock beating, banked home prayer from about 26 feet as things went under the eleven minute mark.
Though Xavier is way too good to be put away early.
Led by Trevon Bluiett, Xavier went on a 12-6 spurt after the Cooper made triple, and only trailed 60-58 after Matt Stainbrook got away with a walk and sky hooked a four footer with 6:45 left in the game.
But UTEP's senior leaders came up with some huge plays down the stretch that sealed it with an Orange and Blue bow.
Cooper and Washburn gave UTEP a 66-60 lead with back-to-back makes from deep, then Ced Lang blew by Stainbrook for a huge put back jam capping off an 8-2 UTEP run with four and a half minutes left in the game.
Dee Davis kept chipping away for Xavier, and thanks to a three point play cut the Miner led to 70-67 with 2:35 left.
The Miners would close things out with six makes from the free throw line in a row inside the two minute mark, and also make 11 out 14 from the stripe in the final three minutes to move on and face the winner of Washington, and Long Beach State's semifinal tilt later tonight.
This was a game with so many poised heroic efforts led by Cooper who also had 4 assists, and 3 rebounds, and hit four of his seven looks from three in the game.
Make that four straight double-doubles for Vince Hunter who finished 17 points, and 12 rebounds. He also had a huge defensive play in the final minutes, blocking a Myles Davis look from three with the Miners holding on to a 72-69 lead with just 40 seconds left.
Cedrick Lang kept Stainbrook off the boards, and added 13 points, and 10 rebounds for his second straight double-double of the season. Morris finished 15 points, including two three pointers, and a 6/9 showing from the field.
A huge concern for UTEP coming in was the production of Bluiett who was held to 3/9 shooting from the field and finished with 13 points. Buliett came into the game shooting better than 60 percent on the season.
Myles Davis led Xavier with 15 points off the bench, Dee Davis added 12, and Lang kept Stainbrook in check limiting him to only 11 points and 6 rebounds.
UTEP was 8/20 from behind the three point line, and controlled the boards from the tip earning a 40-31 advantage in the contest, while shooting 48.1 percent for the game.
The Miners improve to 4-0 on the season, while Xavier drops to 5-1 on the year.
Washington and Long Beach State get going at 9:30 p.m. El Paso time on ESPN2, winner gets UTEP on Sunday at 8:00 p.m. shown live on ESPN2