UTEP Clinches Share of WAC Title
Hawaii's 91-77 win over Rice on Sunday in Honolulu guaranteed UTEP at least a share of the 2004 Western Athletic Conference title.
The Miners (22-5, 13-4 WAC) are the lone WAC team with four conference losses. Rice, Hawaii and Nevada are all 11-5.
UTEP has one regular season game remaining. Rice closes out the WAC schedule by hosting Louisiana Tech (Thursday) and playing at SMU (Saturday). Hawaii plays at Nevada (Thursday) and at Fresno State (Saturday). Nevada hosts Hawaii (Thursday) and San Jose State (Saturday).
UTEP can win the championship outright with a victory on Saturday at Boise State (19-8, 11-6 WAC). The game will be televised in El Paso on Time Warner Cable Channel 7 beginning at 2 PM Mountain time.
UTEP has captured its first WAC regular season championship since the 1991-92 season, when the Miners tied for the title with a 12-4 record. It is UTEP's eighth WAC regular season championship. The Miners won five consecutive trophies from 1983-87 under legendary coach Don Haskins.
Last year UTEP was 3-15 in the WAC, last in the 10-team league. This year's Miners are only the third team in conference history to perform a "worst to first" turnaround, and the first to achieve this feat in 35 years. Utah finished 3-7 in the conference during the 1964-65 season, but took the title in 1965-66 with a 7-3 mark. BYU was 4-6 in 1967-68, but tied for first place in 1968-69 with a 6-4 record.
Saturday's game will match the WAC's two hottest teams. Boise State has won eight of its last nine games, while UTEP has won 10 of its last 11. The Broncos handed the Miners their only home loss of the season, 98-94, in the conference opener on Jan. 3.
Boise State junior swingman Jermaine Blackburn has missed the last six games with a shoulder injury. He is averaging 15.9 points, seventh in the conference. His status is day-to-day. The Broncos have posted a 5-1 record in his absence.