UTEP will honor its 1992 Sweet 16 team Saturday night — 20 years after an exciting season.
That Miner team went 27-7 and began the run by splitting with New Mexico State (remember, NMSU went to the Sweet 16 that year, too), then reeled off 12 straight wins to go 16-1. They beat Texas in the finals of the Sun Carnival Tournament along the way. The Miners lost a pair at Utah and BYU, then lost at New Mexico and, inexplicably, at Air Force.
They only lost twice more that season — 73-71 to BYU in the championship game of the WAC Tournament in Fort Collins, Colo., on a 55-foot running shot by BYU's Kevin Nixon at the buzzer (the Miners had the game won 71-70 before that prayer shot) and 69-67 to Cincinnati in the Sweet 16.
The Miners got off to a horrible start against Cincinnati that night in Kansas City. They came back and even seemed to take a lead on a short jumper by Marlon Maxey. He was called for traveling but it was so loud that no one heard the whistle at first. Cincinnati simply crushed Memphis, 88-57, in the Elite 8. The Miners were that close to the Final Four.
Sadly, two members of that team have passed away. Gym Bice was electrocuted in an accident while helping a friend install a sprinkler system and Roy Howard was killed in a trucking accident. But it was a wonderful mix of players and a good group of guys.
Eddie Rivera, now living in Orlando, was a great guard ... a guard who could score on anybody. Prince Stewart, now back home in Lexington, Ky., was one of UTEP's all-time best defenders. Bice was a good, solid third guard.
Johnny Melvin and Ralph Davis were a pair of athletic 6-foot-5 players. Each made his own contributions. Both Melvin and Davis are back in the Chicago area.
David Van Dyke, living in the suburbs of Phoenix, remains UTEP's all-time leading shot block leader. He was 6-10, long, athletic and had great timing. Marlon Maxey, also living back in the Chicago area, was a 6-8 strong, inside player. He played a few seasons in the NBA. Howard was 6-8, tough and gritty.
In short, Don Haskins had the pieces to mix and match to his heart's delight. And he did. Haskins was masterful in the Miners' win over No. 2 Kansas — spreading the floor, using three guards much of the time, running a triangle-and-two on defense. Melvin played the point on the triangle and he was so active there, opposing coaches had trouble figuring out what the Miners were doing.
That team was fun to watch, fun to cover and it's a shame they did not take it a couple of steps further. It would have been good for Haskins and for UTEP to reach the Final Four one more time.
Incidentally, had the Miners gotten past Cincinnati and had they beaten Memphis, they would have played Michigan's Fab Five freshman class in the Final Four.
They did not do all that. But they made a wonderful run and it was an exciting time for El Pasoans.