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Arizona, Lobos together again?

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Wildcats coach Sean Miller is interested in renewing the rivalry

The script was pretty much set for a Saturday showdown between No. 3 seed New Mexico and No. 6 seed Arizona in the third round of the NCAA Tournament.

It was to be the 126th meeting between the two former Western Athletic Conference rivals who have one of college basketball’s longest series despite not having squared off since 1999. That’s when legendary former Wildcats coach Lute Olson swore off the series after he says a questionable clock issue in the Pit cost his team a win in Albuquerque on Jan. 16, 1999. (UNM also beat U of A the following season in Tucson on Dec. 21, 1999, to complete the home-and-home contract).

Last week in Salt Lake City a new era of both programs came together in the same building — with Sean Miller running the show for the Wildcats and Steve Alford fresh off the announcement of his new 10-year contract with UNM.

The Journal asked Miller if he would be interested in renewing the rivalry with the Lobos.

“We would,” said Miller, the fourth-year Wildcats coach.

UNM Sports Information Director Frank Mercogliano said in an email Alford was open to the idea, but had no official comment.

Miller pointed out that the program has been locked into several scheduling agreements since his hiring, but there are now openings. He said he is open to playing teams that showcase the southwest and would be a plus for postseason profiles. UNM was rated No. 2 this season in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) while Arizona is No. 15.

“We’ve already started to go down that path,” Miller said. “We’re finishing a (home-and-home) series with San Diego State. That was a part of things when I got there. We’ve renewed a four-year series with UNLV. New Mexico is, obviously they’re one of the best teams in the country. Nobody knows that more than me. I think that’s something we could certainly consider and talk about.”

Miller said he was unaware of the Lute Olson decision from 1999 to break ties with UNM, adding that wouldn’t be a part of his future scheduling decisions.

Arizona leads the all-time series with UNM 83-42 with the first game being played in 1917 and the last in 1999.

When Arizona and Arizona State left the WAC in 1978 to join the Pac-8 (since evolved into the Pac-12), the annual home and home league series dissolved. UNM and Arizona played 13 nonconference games since with the Lobos holding a 7-6 advantage between 1979 and 1999.

2013-14 SCHEDULING: UNM’s men’s basketball budget is based on a 16-game home schedule. But it may have an issue meeting that number for the 2013-14 season if it is unable to secure a home game with one of the teams in the Charleston Classic in South Carolina.

UNM is one of six teams ESPN has said will participate in the eight-team exempt tournament, joining Clemson, Georgia, Alabama-Birmingham, Nebraska and Temple. The other two teams, according to the event’s media coordinator Ray Mallouk on Monday, will be announced shortly after the NCAA Tournament.

If it can schedule one of those teams within a two-week window of that event, the NCAA allows programs to add a 31st game to its schedule. That’s what the Lobos did this past season with a Nov. 28 home game against Mercer, which joined UNM in the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands Nov. 16-19.

UNM’s confirmed schedule for 2013-14 so far looks like this:

♦ 18 games in the Mountain West (nine at home, nine on the road)

♦ 3 neutral-court games in the Charleston Classic

♦ 2 games with New Mexico State (one in Albuquerque, one in Las Cruces)

♦ 1 neutral court game with the Kansas Jayhawks in Kansas City

♦ 1 road game with Valparaiso

♦ 1 home game with Cincinnati

That is 11 home games, 11 road games and four neutral games already scheduled for 26 total.

A 30-game schedule would mean the final four home games left to finalize would leave UNM at just 15 home games.

If the Lobos can secure a home game with one of the Charleston Classic participants, they can have a 31-game schedule and still reach their 16-home game magic number.

LOBOS LINKS: Roster | Schedule/Results | Geoff Grammer’s blog

— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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