More than 40 years later, we remember - and cherish - the game that changed basketball forever. It was March 19, 1966, the night a team with five black starters made history by winning a national championship.
Texas Western College, now UTEP, defeated the University of Kentucky. That win accelerated the advancement of black athletes in the South. All-white leagues like the Atlantic Coast Conference, Southwestern Conference and Southeastern Conference became integrated within the next two years.
Although the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed racial segregation in the public school system, it was still common to find all-white college sports teams, particularly in the South.
But in the remote desert city of El Paso, where a melting pot of cultures on the U.S-Mexico border had existed for years, race was not an issue for the Texas Western basketball team. Winning was.
Led by Don Haskins, a gruff, straight-talking coach known as "The Bear," the Miners lit up the 1965-66 regular season with a 23-1 record. A tight-knit group of blacks, whites and one Hispanic, the team finished the season ranked third in the final AP college basketball poll.
In the tournament's first round, Texas Western defeated Oklahoma City, 89-74. The team beat Cincinnati in the second round, 78-76, in overtime. Victories against Kansas, 81-80, in double overtime in the Midwest regional, and Utah, 85-78, in the national semifinals set the stage for the team's game for the ages.
The Miners had to face the top-ranked, all white, University of Kentucky Wildcats led by its legendary coach Adolph Rupp for the championship. The game was played at the University of Maryland's Cole Field House in College Park, Maryland.
Haskins made history by starting five African-American players. It was the first time that had been done in a NCAA basketball championship game. The Miners took the lead midway through the first half and never relinquished it, although the Wildcats closed to within a point early in the second half. The Miners won, 72 -65, capturing the NCAA crown and finishing the year with a 28-1 record.
When asked about his decision to start five African-American players, Haskins downplayed the significance of his choice.
"I really didn't think about starting five black guys. I just wanted to put my five best guys on the court," Haskins said. "I just wanted to win that game."
After the 1966 championship, college teams throughout the South aggressively began recruiting black athletes, ending years of shameful segregation.
Haskins, a humble and private man who did his best to avoid the public spotlight; always said skin color was never an issue when he put his Miners on the court against Kentucky.
"I was simply playing the best players I had. It was what I had done all year," Haskins said.
Haskins went on to produce many more winning teams and many NBA stars before retiring from UTEP in 1999.