EL PASO, TEXAS (KTSM) – The NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship Game will be played on Monday night in Indianapolis, pitting Baylor against Gonzaga.
The undefeated, 31-0 Bulldogs will battle the fellow 1-seed Bears, who have just two losses in 2020-21, in what is one of the most highly anticipated title games in recent memory.
However, in El Paso, Texas, there’s an added edge.
The famous 1966 Texas Western team that broke racial barriers and won the national championship over Kentucky is still the only Division I men’s team from the state of Texas to win it all, a point of pride that UTEP fans aren’t ready to give up just yet.
Before every UTEP home game, public address announcer Wendell Powers issues a reminder of exactly who the Miners are: “The only team in the state of Texas to win an NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship.”
“It’s grown to be more than just a basketball element of pride for El Pasoans,” said Powers.
55 years after Don Haskins and the Miners made history, becoming the first team to win a championship starting five black players, it’s still the biggest point of pride for the university.
“For UTEP to stand up on its own in being the only one, what more pride can you have to be able to say we’re the only school in the state of Texas?” said longtime UTEP fan Ruben Ramirez, who was 12 years old in 1966 and has vivid memories of the game.
In the Lone Star State, it’s only the Miners that can claim a title; not Texas; not Texas Tech; not Houston. No one else on the men’s side has ever done it.
“Once the last Texas team goes out (of March Madness) I joke that you can feel the wind across Texas, which is the collective exhale of El Pasoans,” said Jon Teicher, the radio Voice of the Miners since 1981.
Frequently forgotten around the state, the Sun City has a collective chip on its shoulder. Owning the only championship in Texas is very important to UTEP fans.
Jaime ‘Pinky’ Arrieta: “It gives us one over the rest of Texas and if you ever hear some of the comments from other Texans about us, it perturbs you,” said Jaime ‘Pinky’ Arrieta, who like Ramirez, was 12 years old the year Texas Western shocked Kentucky.
The law of averages say that eventually, another Texas team will win it all. On Monday, Baylor might have the best chance to join the Miners club as any team ever has, other than the Houston Cougars of the 1980s.
However, even if the Bears get it done, the impact of Texas Western’s victory won’t be lost.
“If Baylor wins, it only changes that line that I say,” said Powers. “It doesn’t change the truth that it changed the landscape of athletics, basketball and our entire world.”
That doesn’t mean that El Paso is ready to see it, though. Powers said that he’s definitely rooting for Gonzaga on Monday, and his fellow UTEP fans concurred.
“Eventually it’ll end, but I don’t wanna see that, so I hope it’s not in my lifetime,” said Arrieta.
“It’s something I’d like to see continue so yes, I’ll be rooting for Gonzaga,” added Teicher.
Baylor and Gonzaga will tip off at 7:20 p.m. on Monday night in Indianapolis in the 2021 NCAA National Championship Game.