EL PASO, Texas – In the final preparation opportunity before officially opening the season on Monday, UTEP topped Western New Mexico 72-59 in an exhibition on Saturday afternoon in the Don Haskins Center.

Returning starters Avery Crouse and Elina Arike had effective games to lead the Miners, with Crouse pouring in a team-high 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the floor and Arike adding 12 points on a 4-of-7 effort with three blocks.

After trailing 16-12 after a quarter, UTEP took the lead at 21-20 with 7:09 remaining in the second quarter when freshman Soleil Montrose jumped the passing lane for a steal before finding an open Eliana Cabral for the basket.

Later in the quarter, the Mustangs would retake a short-lived lead that would quickly go away courtesy of three straight Grace Alvarez 3-pointers to put the Miners up 34-29.

UTEP would go on to take a 37-36 advantage into the half.

Defensively, the Miners drew seven charges and forced 14 Western New Mexico turnovers over the first 20 minutes.

Towards the end of the third quarter, a 14-2 run would swing the game more firmly into control for UTEP, which built the lead up to 13 in the final 10 minutes.

“We have a lot of kids banged up and injured,” UTEP Head Coach Kevin Baker said. “We did have a slow start scoring the basketball, and we were working on some things too. We use exhibitions, not to embarrass our opponent, but to practice and work on things. They allowed us to do that. I’m so glad that Western New Mexico played well enough to make us battle. Sometimes when you have exhibitions like this you’re worried that being up 40 points doesn’t really help you grow as a basketball team. What we needed was exactly what we got. They scrapped, they fought and you’ve got to tip your hat to them for that.”

Sabine Lipe led the Miners with seven rebounds and Jazion Jackson contributed seven points and a team-high five assists.

Playing as a starter, Eliana Cabral put on a nice display with eight points and six rebounds. In just nine minutes of play, Adhel Tac contributed six points and five rebounds.

“What I am excited about is that playing without two starters we still played pretty good basketball down the stretch,” Baker said. “I’m convinced that injuries early in the year really help your team for down the road. I’m a firm believer in that. We have Jazion out there playing point guard, and she’s not a point guard. Avery played some point guard, and she’s not a point guard. We did what we had to do to get the job done, and at the same time, I think things like that help you get better. So I was excited to see what we would do without Mahri Petree and N’Yah Boyd along with a couple other kids that are kind of banged up too. We played 10 kids tonight, and there are 15 on our roster, so that shows you kind of where we are. As the season goes on, we’ll get healthier and healthier, and we’ll get deeper and deeper.”

As one of two returning starters, Crouse will play a critical role for the Miners this season.

“I’m just playing with my team and taking what the defense gives, and also just trying to get anybody involved,” Crouse said. “I think we play better when all five of us are being aggressive and attacking the boards – playing together – and I think that’s what going to make us play our best basketball.”

Defensive pressure led to many of the opportunities for UTEP, which turned 21 WNMU turnovers into 27 points on the afternoon.

The Miners outscored the Mustangs 60-43 over the final three quarters.

UTEP remains in El Paso for the regular season opener on Monday at 7 p.m. against New Orleans.

TICKET INFO

Tickets start at $8 while groups of 10 can purchase tickets for $5 a piece. Fans can buy single-game tickets and season tickets (starting as low as $65) for the new campaign at the Eisenberg Family Ticket Office by calling (915) 747-UTEP, visiting www.UTEPMiners.com/tickets, emailing tickets@utep.edu, or in person at 500 W. University Ave., 79968-0579 (Monday thru Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.).