Kansas basketball adds March 4 game with UTEP to wrap up 2020-21 regular season

Kansas guard Marcus Garrett (0) and Kansas guard Christian Braun (2) slap hands before Garrett gets sent to the line for a pair of free throws during the first half on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021 at Allen Fieldhouse.

The Kansas men’s basketball season will end up with 27 regular season games after all.

KU on Thursday announced that the 17th-ranked Jayhawks (17-8 overall, 11-6 Big 12) will welcome the University of Texas at El Paso to Lawrence next Thursday for the final regular season game of the 2020-21 season.

Tip time is set for 7 p.m., and the game will be shown on an ESPN platform that has yet to be announced. According to a news release from UTEP, the game will be televised by Big 12 Now/ESPN+.

This will mark UTEP’s first game against a ranked opponent since 2014. According to the Miners’ release, UTEP is also slated to play at Kansas during the 2021-22 season.

The Jayhawks had an opening in their schedule because of the cancellation of the Tarleton State game in mid-December. KU coach Bill Self has said in the past couple of weeks that the decision of whether to add a 27th game came down to risk versus reward.

The risk comes from the fact that the Jayhawks will be bringing to town another team that, like hundreds more, has been navigating playing college basketball in the times of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The reward comes from the fact that KU will get another postseason tune-up and no longer have 11 days between its Big 12 finale against No. 2 Baylor on Saturday and the start of the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City, Mo., on March 10.

“I know Coach had been talking to various schools (about) what he wanted to do,” KU assistant coach Norm Roberts said Thursday night while filling in for Self on his “Hawk Talk” radio show. “We (would have been) off for such a long period of time, and Coach wants to keep our guys in a decent rhythm going into the Big 12 tournament.”

UTEP is currently 10-10 overall and is tied for fifth place in the Conference USA West standings. The Miners are coached by Rodney Terry who is 35-46 in his third season at UTEP and 161-154 in his 10th season overall.

“UTEP’s got a terrific program,” Roberts said. “(And) a great young coach, Terry, who we know. So it’ll be a good opportunity for us to play another game.”

The Kansas-UTEP series dates back to 1966 and the Miners lead 3-1.

The first meeting was an epic, 81-80 double-overtime win for UTEP — then known as Texas Western — in the second round of the 1966 NCAA Tournament in Lubbock, Texas. That Texas Western team went on to win the national title.

KU won the most recent matchup with the Miners, 67-63, on Nov. 30, 2013, in the third-place game of the Battle 4 Atlantis.

This will be the first meeting between the two schools in Lawrence.

Tickets for the UTEP game will go on sale to Williams Education Fund donors on Friday. If tickets remain after the donor pre-sale, the remaining allotment will be donated to first responders.

Student tickets will be available for students who purchased the All-Sports Combo on Friday and, if inventory allows, all other students on Monday.

The Jayhawks will close out the Big 12 Conference season at 7 p.m. Saturday against No. 2 Baylor at Allen Fieldhouse.

Even though there now will be another home game after that, KU officials said Thursday that Senior Night festivities will still take place on Saturday.

Marcus Garrett, Mitch Lightfoot and walk-on Chris Teahan are the three seniors on KU’s current roster. All three could be playing their final home games in the next week. But all three also have the option of returning to KU for the 2021-22 season thanks to a blanket waiver offered by the NCAA in the wake of the pandemic.

Roberts said Thursday night that Self was still having conversations with all three players about their future plans.

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