EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Aside from the Conference USA Tournament, the UTEP women’s basketball program has not played postseason basketball since the 2015-16 season when the Miners made a run to the Elite 8 in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament (WNIT). Riding a nine-game winning streak, the longest active win streak in Conference USA, UTEP (14-5, 11-3) is setting themselves up for postseason basketball this March.
The Miners’ nine-game winning streak is tied for the fourth longest win streak in program history and is the longest since the 2013-14 season. Having played six more games than Rice who is 8-0 in league play, UTEP has played themselves into a virtual tie with the Owls in Conference USA’s West Division.
“Right now, if the season stops today, we are in the top four for winning percentage. That’s what we want,” said head coach Kevin Baker. “We can’t control who’s going to play who and who is going to makeup what games — the only thing we can control is how we play, when we get to play and right now we’re playing really well.”
UTEP has one of the youngest teams in the conference, but they also have one of the deepest benches. The Miners lead the league in bench points during their nine-game winning streak and Baker has gone eight, nine, sometimes even ten deep in his rotation.
The Miners have legitimate aspirations to win the Conference USA Tournament in 2021 and receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. However, they are also in the process of building a resume for an at-large bid in the WNIT — in the event they don’t win the league tournament in March. Conference USA has notoriously been a one-bid league, but with this season being as unprecedented as it is with postponement and cancellations across women’s basketball, stranger things have happened.
“We’re playing for us, we’re playing for the fans, and I just think it’s going to help us get better along the way,” said UTEP sophomore guard Katia Gallegos. “We are taking it one game at a time, but along the way I do think about stuff like that [postseason play] and it just gets us more excited about postseason and if we can make it further. It just gives us more confidence for us to play better.”
UTEP’s NET ranking is currently No. 135 in the country, the fifth-highest ranking in Conference USA behind Rice (No. 51), Middle Tennessee (No. 99), Charlotte (No. 103), and North Texas (No. 126).
“As a coach, I think about it all the time [postseason play],” said Baker. “I think about whether we can win the Conference USA Tournament, if we can get into the NCAA Tournament, can we get a WNIT bid if that doesn’t happen — it’s all I think about.”
With four games remaining in the regular season, UTEP has a chance to put their stamp on one of the more impressive win streaks in program history. Furthermore, the future of Miner basketball is looking brighter than ever in the Kevin Baker era with a young, talented core of players who are playing for more than just themselves — they are playing for each other.