KU basketball adds nonconference matchup with UTEP to close regular season

Matt Galloway
Topeka Capital-Journal
Bill Self and Kansas basketball will now close out their regular season with a 7 p.m. March 4 matchup against UTEP at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, the program announced Thursday.

LAWRENCE — Kansas basketball will play a full 27-game schedule this season after all.

The Jayhawks on Thursday announced the addition of a 7 p.m. March 4 matchup with Texas-El Paso (UTEP) at Allen Fieldhouse, a contest that now represents KU’s regular-season finale. The only Big 12 team on track to complete its 18-game conference slate as scheduled — the No. 17-ranked Jayhawks (17-8) play host to No. 2 Baylor at 7 p.m. Saturday — KU had previously faced the prospect of going 12 full days between that contest and its first game at the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals.

The tilt with UTEP will replace the only canceled game on the Jayhawks’ schedule this season, a Dec. 13 matchup against Tarleton State in Lawrence that was axed due to COVID-19 protocols within the visitors’ program.

KU coach Bill Self on Monday said the Jayhawks would only consider adding a 27th game to its schedule if the opponent were able to conform and adhere to the Big 12's testing protocols in advance of that hypothetical matchup. 

“I would rather not play than risk," Self said, "but if we can play and not risk, then I think that will be the best thing for us."

Currently tied for fifth place in the Conference USA West standings, UTEP (10-10) last played on Feb. 13, when it earned a 77-68 home victory over FIU that capped a two-game sweep of the Panthers. The Miners, who have lost seven of their last 11 games, are scheduled to play host to Charlotte for a two-game set on Saturday and Sunday before taking on the Jayhawks.

Interestingly, UTEP actually leads the all-time series with KU, 3-1. Then known as Texas Western, the program earned an 81-80 double-overtime victory over the Jayhawks on March 12, 1966, in Lubbock, Texas, in the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight. Texas Western went on to win the national title that year with a 72-65 victory over Kentucky, with that run through the blue-blood programs immortalized in the 2006 film “Glory Road.”

KU was victorious in its last meeting with UTEP, taking a 67-63 decision on Nov. 30, 2013, in the third-place game at the Battle 4 Atlantis.

The Jayhawks have won 37 straight regular-season home finales, a run that dates back to the 1983-84 season.