EL PASO — One Texas El Paso player yawned. Two others playfully elbowed each other. The crowd began to sing the Amen song.
Yes, this game was history--except seven minutes still remained.
On Jan. 18, San Diego State beat then-nationally ranked UTEP on a last-second jumper by Creon Dorsey.
There were no such Aztec heroics Thursday night, however, as UTEP crashed the boards and smashed the Aztecs, 91-64, before a sellout crowd of 12,222.
The victory boosted the three-time WAC champion Miners to 23-5 for the season, 11-4 in conference.
More important, UTEP remained in the hunt for the host position in the WAC postseason tournament, as front-running Wyoming lost to Utah, 74-72, to force a four-way tie for first place.
When Dorsey scored the game's first four points Thursday, many expected San Diego State to remain the biggest burr in the Miners' saddle. After all, the Aztecs had beaten the Miners in their last three meetings.
But UTEP's Quintan Gates, Jeep Jackson and Dave Feitl made sure that streak would not be extended by keying a first-half surge that would make the second-half anti-climatic.
Feitl scored 12 points, Jackson 8 and Gates 6 (with 5 rebounds) to help the hosts open a commanding 48-26 advantage by intermission. The biggest reason: the Miners outrebounded SDSU, 24-9.
For the game, UTEP outrebounded the Aztecs, 47-28. And the margin would have been worse had it not been for Steffond Johnson and John Martens. The duo accounted for half of SDSU's rebounds.
The coaches indirectly agreed rebounding played the key role.
"The guys went to the boards so hard," UTEP Coach Don Haskins said. "I think that's what took the wind out of their sails in the first half."
Countered SDSU Coach Smokey Gaines: "I didn't think they outpositioned us. In fact, I thought we had better position all night, but they went over our backs and the refs just wouldn't call the foul."
But Gaines refused to blame the non-calls for the Aztecs' 41% shooting from the floor.
"Last year at this time, we were playing the best basketball of anybody in the league," he said. "Now, there are at least four teams playing better.
"We had to make 20-footers to beat them last time, and we got the same shots this time. We just couldn't hit them."
To wit: Johnson dominated the last time the teams met, scoring 26 points. Thursday, he managed only 12. Martens scored 16 in the win, only 4 in the loss.
And Dorsey, who scored four in the opening minute, finished with six.
And Anthony Watson, the WAC's leading scorer, had a team-high 18, although it came as part of a 7-for-22 effort from the floor.
"There's no doubt about it," Gaines said. "Watson has to be on if we're going to be on."