Sixteen years after Lute Olson vowed Arizona would never schedule regional rival New Mexico again, the Wildcats’ boycott is over.
The two schools announced Monday they will begin a two-year series during the 2016-17 season with the Lobos visiting Tucson on Dec. 17, 2016 and the Wildcats heading to Albuquerque on Dec. 16, 2017.
“It’s exciting to add big games like this to our upcoming schedule,” New Mexico coach Craig Neal said in a school-released statement. “I am very appreciative of Coach Miller and Arizona Director of Athletics Greg Byrne for scheduling this series and agreeing to come play us on our home court. These will be great games for our fans, and I am looking forward to the opportunity to play a program like Arizona.”
Arizona’s decision to revive the series reflects the fact that tension between the two programs has eased since Olson’s retirement. Olson originally vowed to “unequivocally” discontinue the series in 1999 after a controversial finish to New Mexico’s 79-78 upset victory over the eighth-ranked Wildcats in Albuquerque.
New Mexico trailed by one point with 4.6 seconds left, but Lobos point guard John Robinson II found time to take the inbound pass, zoom downcourt and feed teammate Damion Walker under the basket for the game-clinching shot. Olson was irate afterward because replays showed that the clock may have started a fraction of a second late, giving New Mexico more time to get the ball down the court.
The two teams played once more the following season in Tucson — the last game of a four-game series — before Olson’s boycott went into effect. Arizona has scheduled home-and-home series against Mountain West powers UNLV and San Diego State under Sean Miller, but only now are they doing the same for New Mexico.
The timing of the scheduling agreement could be better for a New Mexico program that endured an injury-plagued 15-16 season this past year after three consecutive seasons that ended with NCAA tournament bids. Neal will have 20 months to replenish his roster and get the Lobos ready for their first matchup with Arizona in 17 years.
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