Freshman Efe Odigie registered his first career double-double (13 points, 11 rebounds), while fellow freshmen Nigel Hawkins and Kaosi Ezeagu made their first career starts. But Arizona (3-0) powered past UTEP (1-2), 79-46, on Wednesday night in the McKale Center.
For Hawkins, it was his first collegiate action. The Houston native tallied seven points, six rebounds and three assists during a team-high 35 minutes of action to in his UTEP debut.
Senior Paul Thomas led the Miners with a season-high 14 points (2-of-4 on three-point buckets), while chipping in with six boards and three dimes.
The Wildcats opened the game with an 8-0 lead five minutes into the contest and with the score 13-4, freshman Jordan Lathon connected on his first career three-point basket, while Odigie made a layup to make the score 15-9 at the 13:40 mark. After U of A took a 23-13 lead following a Chase Jeter layup, the Orange and Blue answered with a 5-0 run with about four minutes remaining in the half. Thomas tallied a pair of points in the paint, while Kobe Magee connected on a trey to make the count 23-18.
“We had opportunities and anytime you go on the road you have to take care of the basketball. We had some turnovers at costly times when we had a chance to try and make a game of it,” first-year UTEP Head Coach Rodney Terry said. “But I thought our guys kept competing, kept fighting and kept trying to do the things we’ve asked them to do.”
Arizona proved to be too much, though, as it answered with an 11-5 run to take a 34-23 lead into the locker room.
Brandon Williams and Brandon Randolph scored 21 points apiece, while Jeter added 15 points to the stat sheet in front of the Wildcats’ 13,651 fans. Ira Lee added seven points and a team-high seven rebounds.
Odigie came off the bench for the first time this season and led the Miners with 11 rebounds, while going 5-for-8 from the field in 28 minutes of action.
“I thought [Odigie] really responded from Friday [at NM State] and he was really challenged the last couple days in practice in terms of his effort and how hard we wanted him to play against a veteran frontline tonight,” Terry said. “I thought he did a nice job holding his own against older players.”
And with Hawkins returning from injury, he added more depth to Terry’s squad after missing the first two games of the season with an injury. Hawkins went 1-for-9 from field but Terry has confidence he’ll find his groove.
“It gives you another guy in your rotation,” Terry said. “But it’s hard coming in with your first game playing Arizona on the road and [Hawkins] hasn’t played for three weeks. I thought he kept good poise, considering he hasn’t played. He came in and played against guys at 6-5, 6-6, every time you go to the basket. You’re challenged, there were no uncontested shots at the rim. So, I thought he did a nice job and he’s going to play his way through it and play his way back into playing shape.”
Ezeagu blocked a shot, his third on the season, while scoring two points and tallying a pair of rebounds. Gilles Dekoninck played over five minutes and Magee (26-plus minutes) came off the bench after playing 40 minutes in back-to-back games to start the season. Evan Gilyard struggled, scoring four points with two rebounds and two assists.
UTEP will return to the Sun City to take on Eastern New Mexico in the Don Haskins Center, Monday, November 19 with a 7 p.m. tipoff.