recently spent the most surreal 48 hours with the UTEP women’s basketball team.
On March 10, I arrived in Dallas and went to Frisco – the site of the 2020 Conference USA Basketball Tournament. That afternoon, head coach Kevin Baker and his team practiced first at Frisco High School and later at The Star for a shoot-around.
The team came into the tournament as the seventh seed and was preparing to play 10th-seed Florida Atlantic in an opening round matchup the following day. The two schools played only once during the regular season, and the Miners easily handled the Owls and won the game by 30 points.
Despite the dominant win over FAU in January, UTEP finished the regular season losing three of its last four games.
Within the first 10 minutes of the C-USA Tournament game against FAU, you could tell that UTEP was ready to play. They shot a blistering 82% in the first quarter, and led the Owls by a whopping 21-points. The Miners never looked back and cruised to a 95-67 win.
As team members returned to its hotel March 11, they were looking forward to a rematch with Old Dominion in the tournament quarterfinals. That night, most of the UTEP women’s basketball team returned to The Star to cheer on the men’s team that was playing Marshall in the opening round game.
As the women boarded the bus from the hotel to head to the arena, they learned that Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert had tested positive for the coronavirus and the NBA had suspended the regular season.
During the men’s game, the Miner women found out that their quarterfinals showdown would be played in an empty arena without fans, cheerleaders or the pep band. C-USA was taking extra precautions due to the spread of the coronavirus.
On March 12, UTEP turned a hotel conference room into a makeshift basketball court to go over final preparations for the big ODU game.
Only 40 minutes before they were supposed to leave the hotel, C-USA canceled the remainder of their postseason tournament.
The season was over and UTEP’s four seniors had just played their last game as Miners.
“We are disappointed to have our season come to an end, but we support the decision of the conference office to cancel the remainder of the tournament,” Baker said. “There are things that are bigger than basketball, and our No. 1 concern is the health and well-being of everyone.”
The Miners scrambled to find a flight out of Dallas, but boarded a Southwest 737 that brought them back to El Paso just before 7 p.m. that day.
They finished the season with a record of 16-14, but we will never know how their C-USA Tournament run would have ended.
Seniors like Katarina Zec, Ariona Gill, and Jade Rochelle will always wonder what could have been.
Since 1997, Steve Kaplowitz has hosted “Sportstalk” from 4 to 7 p.m. weekdays on 600 ESPN El Paso. You can email him at email@example.com.