DAYTON, Ohio -- More than 25 years ago, Don Haskins took a bunch of big-city players and little Texas Western to the top of the college basketball world. When the Miners beat Kentucky at Cole Field House in the final of the 1966 NCAA tournament, many considered it the biggest upset in the history of the sport.
Yesterday's 66-60 win over top-seeded, fourth-ranked Kansas by the same school -- now Texas-El Paso -- and the same coach might not have been of the same proportions, but it was enough to throw the already wide-open NCAA Midwest Regional into chaos.
The ninth-seeded Miners will play fourth-seeded Cincinnati, which earlier in a wild afternoon at the University of Dayton Arena beat Michigan State, 77-65, Friday in one semifinal at Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Mo. Sixth seed Georgia Tech will meet seventh seed Memphis State in the other semifinal.
"Easy as cake," Haskins said, jokingly.
It was anything but. After staying with the Jayhawks for the first 36 minutes, and then running off eight straight points for a 55-47 lead with 3:19 remaining, UTEP (27-6) hung on. Kansas cut its deficit to 62-60 with 17 seconds left and fouled Johnny Melvin with 13 seconds to go.
On the bench, Haskins looked away.
On the free-throw line, Melvin had confidence belying a 63 percent shooter.
"I was very confident," said Melvin, who earlier had come up with two of the game's biggest baskets. "Free-throw percentages are like national rankings. They mean nothing. I knew I was going to make it."
After Melvin made both free throws, the last glimmer of hope for Kansas (27-5) left when Steve Woodberry was stripped of the ball as he went up to shoot. The Miners scored with two seconds left, sealing the victory and setting off a wild celebration in the middle of the floor.
It was probably the biggest win for Haskins since that night many years ago in College Park, Md. It was also perhaps the toughest defeat for Kansas coach Roy Williams since he came to Lawrence four years ago.
"This is one of the best," said Haskins, 62, who has won 606 games in 31 seasons in El Paso, "being that Kansas is so highly ranked. If it had been in the regular season, it would have been nice. But we are in the NCAAs. There's a big apple up there, and everyone wants it."
Not only did the Jayhawks want it after losing to Duke in last year's championship game, but many also believed they had the team to do it. And certainly they seemed destined to go to Kemper Arena, where they recently had won the Big Eight tournament after winning the conference regular season by three games.
But the Jayhawks, one of the best shooting teams in the country the past few seasons, shot 42.6 percent against UTEP's persistent defense, led by senior guard Prince Stewart and senior center David Van Dyke. Stewart held Kansas' Adonis Jordan to a season-low two points, and Van Dyke, 6 feet 9, blocked five shots and altered several others.
"They were shooting too quick," said Stewart. "We got the rebounds, and that allowed us to get into a spread offense."
Oh yes, the spread offense. Better known as the four-corners. Williams was familiar with it, having seen it run maybe a couple of thousand times as an assistant at North Carolina. But he had no idea that it was part of UTEP's playbook. Then again, neither did any of the Miners.
At practice Saturday, Haskins ran his team through its normal offense until there were about 10 minutes to go. That's when he put in the four-corners, with Stewart and point guard Eddie Rivera running the show. Haskins said he realized the offense that had helped win 26 games wasn't going to work against the Jayhawks.
"We wouldn't have been able to get our shots off," he said yesterday.
Asked if Williams could have prepared for the four-corners, Haskins said, "He hasn't seen it unless he got a tape of yesterday's practice."
Said Williams: "Needless to say, they had a marvelous game plan and the athletes to carry it out. We've had several teams try to control the tempo on us, but usually we've done a little bit better job against it."
zTC UTEP took advantage of its quickness in the backcourt, as well as the jumping ability of its forwards. The result was that the Miners hung with the Jayhawks through a 27-27 first half despite foul trouble on Van Dyke and forward Marlon Maxey, then got a little breathing room late in the game.
The two biggest plays were a steal by Stewart that led to Rivera's only basket of the game, which gave the Miners a 55-47 lead, and a banked layup by Melvin, who sandwiched between two Kansas players for a 57-52 lead with 2:18 to go.
"I couldn't believe he made that," said Haskins. "If he had taken an easier shot, he probably would have missed."
Melvin, who finished with a game-high 18 points, typifies this UTEP team. He's a cocky man who played his high school ball against bigger-name players in Chicago, as Maxey and Ralph Davis did. Rivera is from New York, and Stewart came from basketball-crazy Lexington, Ky.
The victory certainly brought back a flood of memories for Haskins, who hadn't taken a team past the second round of the tournament since 1966.
"Kansas is a very good basketball team," he said. "I wouldn't want to play them every day, would you?"