UTEP looks to improve to 4-1 in conference play, hosts UTSA Saturday

UTEP

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – The UTEP women’s basketball team will look to improve to 4-1 in Conference USA play when they host UTSA at the Don Haskins Center on Saturday. Tip-off is scheduled for 1 p.m. MT.

THE OPENING TIP

After being idle for a week, the UTEP women’s basketball team (10-5, 3-1 C-USA) will return to action at home against UTSA (6-9, 2-2 C-USA) at 1 p.m. MT Saturday at the Don Haskins Center. The contest will be the first of three straight at home for the Miners. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for kids, and may be purchased by calling (915) 747-5234. The game will be streamed on CUSA.TV (subscription based) and also through the 600 ESPN El Paso website (https://krod.com/radio/espn2-el-paso/) with Duke Keith and Traci Miller on the call. The Miners are 8-3 at home, including 2-0 in league play. The Roadrunners are 1-6 on the road, but that lone road victory did come during league action. UTEP is in second place in C-USA at 3-1 in the league. The Miners have scored at least 80 points in three straight games for the first time since the 2013-14 season; they’ve never strung together four consecutive such contests. UTEP is coming off an 87-80 setback at LA Tech on Jan. 11. The Roadrunners fell, 82-65, at Southern Miss on Jan. 11.  

HE SAID IT (COACH BAKER ON UTSA)

“They’re a lot better than they were last year. They’re running some things now they didn’t last year. They’re moving around more on offense so they’re harder to guard than they’ve been in the past. They’ve got some young players that can really score. UTSA is a very dangerous team, very much like us. I expect a really good game, a really competitive game between two teams that are kind of on the rise a bit.”

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES

In 2018-19 the Miners were decimated by injuries and finished the year at 9-22. It is a much different story this year, with UTEP (10-4) having already surpassed its overall win total from a season ago. The Miners got off to their first 3-0 start in league play in three years and enter Saturday’s contest in second place in C-USA (3-1). Last year they began league play at 1-8 en route to finishing 5-11 in conference action.

BIG WINS

Eight of UTEP’s victories have been by double figures, including five of at least 20 points. It is the most wins by 20+ points since 2013-14 (nine). The Miners had their largest differential (+45) under head coach Kevin Baker in a 92-47 drubbing of Alcorn State (11/16/19), which tied as the 10th-biggest margin of victory in program history. They’ve also taken down Florida Atlantic (1/4/20) by 31 (96-65), FIU (1/2/20) by 30 (64-34), Western Michigan (11/29) by 30 (76-46) and a NM State (11/23/19) by 20 (64-45). Overall UTEP’s scoring margin (+11.3) ranks second in C-USA and 57th in the nation.

GAME FORMAT

NCAA women’s basketball games are played in four 10-minute quarters. Teams reach the bonus and shoot two free throws on the fifth team foul in each quarter. In the four-quarter format, team fouls reset to zero at the start of each frame. Teams have four timeouts (three 30s, one 60), three of which carry over to the second half. They will be able to advance the ball to the frontcourt after a timeout with less than 59.9 seconds in 4Q. There are seven media timeouts (four under five minutes in quarter/first called), two intermission media timeouts (after first and third quarters) and the first team-called timeout during the second half. Bands or amplified music may play during any dead ball.

GET TO KNOW UTSA (6-9, 2-2; 5-2 HOME; 1-6 ROAD; 0-1 NEUTRAL)

UTSA got off to a 3-1 start on the year, but it has gone 3-8 since that point. The biggest issue has been struggling to a 1-6 mark on the road, but the Roadrunners are 1-1 on the road in league action. Mikayla Woods (15.1 ppg-ninth C-USA), Adryana Quezada (13.4 ppg) and Karrington Donald (10.4 ppg) pace the attack. Woods also tops the team in steals per game (1.9-seventh C-USA). Timea Toth (1.2-10th C-USA) and Evelyn Omemmah (1.0-12th) have made an impact with blocked shots. Toth also tops the team in rebounding (6.4 rpg). UTSA has run into issue on defense, ranking last in the league for both field-goal percentage defense (43.3) and scoring defense (73.5). UTSA is in its sixth year as a member of Conference USA; it previously competed in the Oil Country Athletic Conference and Southland Conference. The Miners also were once members in the OCAC. The Roadrunners made the NCAA Tournament in 2008 and 2009, won the SLC regular-season title in 2003 and 2009 while taking the SLC Tournament title in 2009. Notable university alumni include Michelle Beadle (TV personality), Bruce Bowen (former NBA player for the Spurs) and Kim Spradlin (CBS’ Survivor: One World Winner).  

THE SERIES (OVERALL: UTSA LEADS, 22-13; IN EL PASO: UTSA LEADS, 10-8)

UTSA leads the series with UTEP, 22-13, but it is even at 6-6 since the Roadrunners joined Conference USA. Last year the Miners posted their first season sweep in the series since the 2013-14 campaign, including a 77-73 home win on Feb. 23, 2019. The Miners have won three in a row against UTSA to regain momentum in the match-up. UTSA had peeled off six of seven before the current UTEP surge. The series dates to the 1980’s when both squads were members of the Oil Country Athletic Conference. 

LAST MEETING WITH UTSA: AT UTEP 77, UTSA 73, 2/23/19

Jordan Alexander tallied a season-high tying 18 points to pace a trio of players in double figures as the UTEP women’s basketball team used a big fourth quarter to rally past UTSA, 77-73, at the Don Haskins Center on Feb. 23, 2019. The Roadrunners led by many as 13 (28-15, 1:30 1Q) and were still up by four (53-49) through three quarters of play before the Miners stormed back. UTEP scored the first 12 points in the final frame to take its first lead since 2-1, and it answered every push the rest of the way to secure the come-from-behind victory. It is the first win of the season for the Miners when trailing at the half (now 1-16). Zuzanna Puc (15 points) and Katarina Zec (12 points) also reached double figures in scoring for UTEP, which dressed only seven players for the eighth consecutive contest. The Miners shot 48.3 percent (29-60) from the floor while committing 13 turnovers. They also took care of business at the free-throw line by nailing 72.2 percent (13-18), including a perfect 8-8 in the final frame to help ice the contest. All seven Miners scored at least seven points in the game, while Jade Rochelle (eight rebounds) led the efforts on the glass. UTEP registered its highest scoring fourth quarter (28 points) of the season. 

GOING BACK IN TIME (AT LA TECH 87, UTEP 80, 1/11/20)

UTEP shot 47.9 percent (23-48) from the floor and nailed a season-high 10 triples, but it sustained its first Conference USA loss of the year in an 87-80 setback at LA Tech on Jan. 11. The Miners were hurt by committing 28 turnovers and allowing the Lady Techsters to drill 53.8 percent (28-52) from the floor, including 50.0 percent (11-22) from 3-point range. Freshman Katia Gallegos flirted with a double-double (15 points, seven assists) to pace a trio of players in double figures. Katarina Zec (13 points) and Ariana Taylor (11 points) buoyed her, while Sabine Lipe (nine points, three assists) and Jade Rochelle (eight points, two assists) led the efforts off the pine. It was a seesaw battle with 11 ties and 14 lead changes. The game was knotted at 71 with 9:34 to play before LA Tech took control with an 8-0 surge. The Miners battled back, trimming the margin to three (81-78) after a Zec free throw with 3:19 remaining. That was as close as they would get, with the Lady Techsters staving off every remaining push from the Orange and Blue to improve to 8-2 on the year at home. 

D-UP

UTEP is getting after it on defense in 2019-20, ranking among the league and national leaders for several defensive categories. The Miners are second in C-USA and fifth nationally in 3-point field-goal percentage defense (24.2). They are also making waves with turnovers forced per game (20.8-first/25th), scoring defense (59.1-third/68th) and field-goal percentage defense (37.3-fifth/85th). All of those figures were aided when UTEP set the program record for fewest points allowed in a conference contest by holding FIU to 34 points on Jan. 2.

YOUTH+EXPERIENCE IN STARTING LINEUP

UTEP has turned to its underclassmen to comprise 60 percent of the starting lineup. Freshmen Katia Gallegos and Avery Crouse and sophomore Ariana Taylor joined seniors Ariona Gill and Katarina Zec in the starting lineup the past five games. The four contests before the current stretch freshman Arina Khlopkova joined her fellow classmates in the starting line-up in lieu of Taylor.

ZEC’S GAME GOING STRONG

Senior Katarina Zec has been a consistent performer across the board for the Miners in 2019-20. She leads the team in scoring (13.1 ppg) and minutes played (30.7 mpg). Zec also paces the unit for 3-pointers made (28) and attempted (70). Dating back to the end of last season, she has hit double figures in scoring in 24 of the past 27 contests. 

BALANCED SCORING

Katarina Zec tops the team in scoring (13.1 ppg), but she is not the only capable scorer on the roster. Six other players are pitching in at least 5.0 ppg. They are in the form of Katia Gallegos (10.3 ppg), Ariona Gill (9.1 ppg), Ariana Taylor (6.8), Michelle Pruitt (6.4 ppg), Avery Crouse (5.8 ppg), and Arina Khlopkova (5.7). The balanced effort has played a big role in UTEP accounting for 70.5 points per game, which is good enough for fourth in C-USA and 95th in the country.

SHARING THE ROCK

Freshman Katia Gallegos has settled into the role as starting point guard. She has dished out 70 assists while committing 43 turnovers in 27.9 minutes per game. The El Paso native is second in C-USA for assists per game (4.7) and fourth in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.6). Overall, UTEP’s 15.2 assists per game places second in the league and 69th nationally.

GILL KEYING EFFORT ON THE BOARDS

UTEP has a +4.8 rebounding margin (third C-USA/75th NCAA), with Ariona Gill (8.5 rpg-sixth C-USA/94th NCAA) setting the tone. She has grabbed at least 10 boards in six games, including a career-high 14 in the win vs. Weber State (12/5/19). The top two scorers on the squad have also been helping out on the glass, in the form of Katarina Zec (5.0 rpg) and Katia Gallegos (4.9 rpg).

GIVE ME THAT BALL

UTEP’s full-court pressure defense has given the opposition fits, with foes making 20.8 turnovers per contest (first C-USA/25th NCAA). Katia Gallegos (24 steals), Katarina Zec (24 steals) and Ariona Gill (19 steals) lead the way with each tallying more steals than total games played.

SHUTTING DOWN THE 3-BALL 

UTEP has kept opponents  24.2 percent (63-260) on 3-point percentage, which is second in the league and fifth in the nation. Ten of 15 foes have been held to less than 28 percent from distance, including five below 10 percent. 

GETTING TO KNOW THE 2019-20 MINERS

The Miners returned three starters and seven letter winners from a year ago, including senior guard/forward Katarina Zec (10.1 ppg/4.4 rpg/1.9 apg), senior guard/forward Ariona Gill (8.7 ppg/4.4 rpg), sophomore forward Ariana Taylor (5.9 ppg), senior guard/forward Jade Rochelle (4.0 ppg/4.7 rpg), senior guard Neidy Ocuane (4.0 ppg/1.8 apg) and sophomore guard Sabine Lipe (3.2 ppg and 2.3 rpg). UTEP brought in seven newcomers (junior college transfers Tia Bradshaw, Michelle Pruitt and DejaNae Roebuck, and freshmen Avery Crouse, Katia Gallegos, Arina Khlopkova and Tatyana Modawar) to bolster the unit. The group features three top-100 JUCO players, including two All-Americans, and four high school standouts that produced a combined record of 105-27 at their respective schools. The squad is under the direction of third-year head coach Kevin Baker, who is assisted by Todd Buchanan, Anthony Anderson and Heather Karner.  

THE BAKER FILE (OVERALL: 380-172, COLLEGE: 158-71, UTEP: 36-41)

Kevin Baker is 36-41 in his third year at the helm of the UTEP women’s basketball team, including 10-5 this year. He registered the most wins (26) by any Miner coach through their first two years in program history, including setting the school standard for victories (17) in a debut season in 2017-18. The Miners have also won a game in back-to-back C-USA tournaments for the first time since a five-year stretch (2010-14). He is in his 18th year overall (380-172) as a head coach, including his eighth season (158-71) as a college head coach. He has a unique background which has seen him rise through the coaching ranks from the high school level, to NCAA Division III, then NCAA Division II and now his NCAA Division I position at UTEP. He has set school records for wins at every previous stop of his career, and has taken every prior school to the postseason with a total of five district championships. He is an eight-time Coach of the Year. In his most-recent posts prior to UTEP, Baker’s teams captured back-to-back conference championships at UT-Tyler and Angelo State. Baker led both a Division II (Angelo State) and Division III (UT-Tyler) school to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

WINNING NUMBERS UNDER BAKER

The Miners are 19-3 (6-2 this year) when scoring 70+ points under Kevin Baker. Other notable records in the Baker era include being 20-8 (7-2 this season) when allowing less than 60 points, 14-6 (2-2 this season) when drilling better than 40 percent from 3-point range (min. four makes), 14-4 (3-0 this year) when shooting at least 50 percent from the floor, 26-11 (7-2 this year) when holding the opponent to below 40.0 percent from the floor, 28-8 (10-0 this year) when leading after three quarters and 28-11 (10-1 this season) when up at the half.

BASIC FACTS ON UTEP

UTEP is 583-689 in its 46th season as a women’s basketball program, including standing 10-5 this year. The Miners have made four postseason bids (2016,-WNIT quarterfinals; 2014-WNIT runner-up, 2012-NCAA first round and 2008-NCAA second round), sporting a combined record of 9-4 (8-2 WNIT, 1-2 NCAA). UTEP has claimed four league championships (2016 C-USA regular season, 2012 C-USA regular season and conference tournament and 2008 C-USA regular season). It has a 1-1 record all time in league tournament title games, cutting down the nets in 2012 and falling in 2008. There have been six 20+ win seasons (all since 2006-07), UTEP has cracked the top-25 poll in two seasons (2015-16, 2007-08), including being ranked in the final six weeks in ‘07-08, while receiving votes in seven campaigns total (‘15-16, ‘13-14, ‘12-13, ‘11-12, ‘08-09, ‘07-08 and ‘06-07). The Miners have been mentioned in the AP Preseason Poll four times (most recent 2016-17). In 2008 UTEP became the first C-USA women’s team to finish undefeated in league play (16-0) while claiming the program’s initial league title. The Miners finished 15-1 in C-USA in 2012 in addition to also winning the program’s first conference tournament championship. UTEP owns the C-USA single-season record for winning streak at 23, which was set in 2007-08. The University of Texas at El Paso was founded in 1914. Notable alumni include former ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Sam Donaldson, well-respected and former NFL referee Ed Hochuli, former NASA astronaut Danny Olivas engineer & Dennis Poon, who designed Taipei 101 & some of the tallest buildings in the world.

SPECIAL RUN

The Miners are 165-107 since the start of the 2011-12 season, including 10-5 this year. UTEP has played postseason basketball three times during the stretch, making two deep runs in the WNIT (2014 runner-up, 2016 quarterfinals) and earning the C-USA automatic bid to the 2012 NCAA Tournament (lost, first round). The Orange and Blue have enjoyed 20 separate winning streaks of at least three games (10 such skids), and posted 95 double-digit victories (54 such losses) during that time frame.

HOME GAMES A PLENTY

UTEP will play a total of 18 home games in 2019-20 (8-3 thus far), which will be the most in the regular season for the Miners since also doing so in 2006-07. Nine of the 11 nonconference contests were slated for home. 

HOME SWEET HOME

UTEP has an all-time home record of 372-233, including standing 8-3 in the Don Haskins Center this year. The Miners have amassed a record of 174-59 at home since 2006-07, including 105-42 since 2011-12. UTEP has been particularly strong in nonconference play, standing 88-20 in the Sun City in such contests since 2006-07. 

TRAVEL TIME

UTEP is 150-374 all time on the road, including standing 2-2 in road tilts this year. When playing at a neutral site the Miners stand 62-82, including going 2-2 last season. Since the start of the 2006-07 season UTEP is 67-81 on the road, including 43-50 since 2011-12. 

ZEC IN THE CAREER RANKINGS

UTEP senior Katarina Zec has placed her name throughout the UTEP career records. Zec is sixth for 3-pointers made (120), seventh in 3-pointers attempted (341), eighth for games started (95), 11th in minutes played (2,878), 16th for assists (185), 18th in points (938), 19th for field goals made (338) and attempted (809), tied 22nd in games played (102) and 33rd for rebounds (373).

QUICK REVIEW OF LAST YEAR

There were some ups and downs in 2018-19, but UTEP played its best basketball late in the season to punch a ticket to the C-USA Championships for the second straight year. Once there 11th-seed UTEP made some noise by rallying from a 10-point deficit late in the third quarter to upset sixth-seed Marshall, 64-56, in double overtime (3/13/19). UTEP delivered its first road sweep in league play in three years with two wins in three days (at FAU, 70-44, 2/7/19 and at FIU, 60-55, 2/9/19). The 26-point differential at FAU was the second-biggest margin of victory in a conference road game in program history. UTEP also dispatched North Texas (59-51, 3/7/19) to improve to 2-0 on “Senior Day” under Baker. 

CONNECT ON SOCIAL MEDIA

Fans are encouraged to connect with the Miners on Facebook (UTEP Women’s Basketball), Instagram (@utepwbb) and Twitter (@UTEPWBB). 

UP NEXT

UTEP will continue its three-game homestand by playing host to defending C-USA regular season and tournament champion Rice at 7 p.m. MT on Jan. 23. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for kids, and may be purchased by calling (915) 747-5234.

CLIFF NOTES ON THE ‘19-20 SEASON

UTEP 89, AT SOUTHERN MISS 72, 1/9/20

Fueled by the highest scoring first half on the road in program history, UTEP surged to an 89-72 win at Southern Miss on Jan. 9. The Miners’ 89 points tie as the most in league road contest in school history. They also did so in an 89-74 win at UCF on Feb. 24, 2008. UTEP piled up 51 points to lead the Lady Eagles by 20 at the break on the way to their third victory in as many league games. It marked just the second home loss of the campaign for USM, which slipped to 8-2 inside Reed Green Coliseum this year. Freshman Katia Gallegos set career highs in scoring (23) and assists (eight) to lead the way. She was joined in double figures by fellow starters Katarina Zec (21 points), Ariana Taylor (14 points) and Ariona Gill (13 points). Avery Crouse pitched in six points, five rebounds and four assists. All five starters logged at least 30 minutes of action. UTEP drilled 52.5 percent (32-61) from the floor, the fourth-highest percentage in a road conference contest in program annals. Furthermore, the Miners have scored at least 89 points in consecutive league games for the first time in program history. They piled up 96 points in the home win against Florida Atlantic (1/4/20) before erupting for 89 points against USM on Jan. 9. The Orange and Blue forced 16 turnovers that were converted into 28 points. UTEP also controlled the boards (39-28), with Taylor’s career-high nine rebounds setting the tone in the area.

AT UTEP 96, FLORIDA ATLANTIC 65, 1/4/20

UTEP bolted out to the largest halftime lead in a conference game in program history on the way to drilling Florida Atlantic, 96-65, at the Don Haskins Center on Jan. 4. The Miners led by 22 (47-25) at the break and never let the Owls back into the game as they improved to 2-0 in league play for the first time since 2016. Furthermore, UTEP has won consecutive league contests by at least 30 points for the first occasion in program history. The Miners blasted FIU, 64-34, on Jan. 2, and followed that up with the 31-point vanquishing of the Owls. Freshman Katia Gallegos posted her first career double-double (11 points, career-high 11 rebounds) while also dishing out a game-best six assists to set the tone for the home side. Junior DeJaNae Roebuck (career-high 14 points) provided a spark off the bench while senior Ariona Gill nearly recorded a double-double after finishing with 14 points and nine boards. All 12 players who dressed scored in the game. The 96 points are the most by the Miners under head coach Kevin Baker and rate as the fourth-highest total in a conference game in program annals. UTEP scored at least 22 points in each quarter and shot better than 47 percent in all four frames as well. 

RARE OFFENSIVE FEAT

For the first time since the 1982-83 season (prior records incomplete), the Miners scored at least 90 points in a contest without having an individual player tally at least 15 points. UTEP exploded for 96 points in the win against Florida Atlantic (1/4/20), with DeJaNae Roebuck and Ariona Gill sharing the team lead with 14 points each.

AT UTEP 64, FIU 34, 1/2/20

UTEP vaulted out to a 16-point cushion (26-10) after the first quarter and never looked back on the way to blasting FIU, 64-34, in the Conference USA opener for both schools at the Don Haskins Center on Jan. 2. The Miners allowed the fewest points in a conference game in program history on the way to toppling the Panthers by 30. Furthermore UTEP moved to 3-0 in league lidlifters under head coach Kevin Baker. The Orange and Blue kept FIU to 24.5 percent (12-49), including a combined 4-29 in a dominating second half. UTEP also controlled the boards (47-36), thanks in part to Ariona Gill’s double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds). Katarina Zec posted a game-high 16 points on 6-9 shooting, including 3-6 from distance. Ariana Taylor (nine points), Michelle Pruitt (eight points) and Katia Gallegos (seven points, five assists) also got after it. But the night belonged to the defense, with FIU being held to 13 total points in the second half. UTEP’s pressure defense gave the visitors fits as they committed 23 turnovers. UTEP also dominated in the paint, outscoring the Panthers, 30-12.

GETTING IT DONE IN LEAGUE OPENERS

UTEP bested FIU, 64-34, on Jan. 2 to move to 12-3 in Conference USA openers since joining the league (2005-06), including a perfect 3-0 under Kevin Baker in the situation. Overall UTEP now stands 17-22 all time in conference lid lifters. 

TULSA 58, AT UTEP 51, 12/29/19

UTEP forced 19 turnovers and held Tulsa to 31.6 percent (18-57) from the floor but it had some struggles of its own in a 58-51 home setback to Tulsa at the Don Haskins Center on Dec. 29. The Miners  committed 16 of their 22 turnovers in the first half and finished 13-25 at the charity stripe. UTEP connected on 34.0 percent (18-53) from the floor, which was hindered by going 2-11 (18.2 percent) in the final frame. Yet in spite of those challenges, the Orange and Blue went toe-to-toe with former WAC and Conference USA foe Tulsa. There were seven ties and 11 lead changes, and UTEP led by three (46-43) with seven minutes to go. It wasn’t to be, though, with the Golden Hurricane peeling off an 8-0 run over the next five minutes. The Miners stopped the surge with a pair of Katia Gallegos free throws, but couldn’t get any closer than three points down the stretch. Katarina Zec tallied 13 points to pace the squad while Gallegos netted 10 points and a game-high five assists. Ariona Gill flirted with a double-double (nine points, eight rebounds) while also tallying a trio of steals. Ariana Taylor put up seven points in her first start of the season.

AT SMU 60, UTEP 54, 12/19/19

Katarina Zec (12 points) and Ariana Taylor (season-high 10 points) both reached double figures in scoring while Ariona Gill (eight points, 11 rebounds) flirted with a double-double in UTEP’s hard-fought 60-56 setback at SMU on Dec. 19. The Miners (7-3) forced 18 turnovers and held the Mustangs (5-4) to 39.0 percent (23-59) from the floor. UTEP shot a similar percentage, but couldn’t compensate for a discrepancy on free throws. SMU finished 12-22 at the charity stripe, including 10-14 in the final frame. UTEP was 3-6 at the line, and did not attempt a free throw during the second half despite holding a 32-24 advantage for points in the paint. Another factor was rebounds, with the Mustangs controlling the glass by a count of 43-33. UTEP recorded 17 assists on 24 field goals, with Gill dishing out a career-high five helpers. She also set a career best with five steals.

#20/19 ARIZONA 54, AT UTEP 43, 12/7/19

UTEP forced 23 turnovers and held No. 20 Arizona to its lowest scoring output in a nonconference game in three years but couldn’t get enough shots to fall in a 54-43 setback at the Don Haskins Center on Dec. 7. The Miners limited the Wildcats to 38.0 percent shooting (19-50), including just 7.1 percent (1-14) from beyond-the-arc. Arizona entered the contest averaging 78 points and shooting 49 percent from the floor. UTEP also kept All-American Aari McDonald to 13 points on 4-14 shooting, eight below her scoring output. The defensive effort, particularly over the final three quarters, helped give Arizona its smallest margin of victory on the year. The Wildcats brought a +33 scoring margin into the game. Ariona Gill (11 points) and Katia Gallegos (10 points) paced UTEP on offense. The Miners shot 43 percent in the opening frame but couldn’t sustain that on the way to finishing at 25.9 percent (15-58) for the day. But the defense, which kept Arizona to 1-9 in the final quarter, allowed the home side to be down by just nine with three minutes to play. UTEP could get no closer, with the Wildcats hitting enough free throws down stretch to hold on.

AT UTEP 70, WEBER STATE 51, 12/5/19

Senior Jade Rochelle provided a huge spark off the bench by setting career highs in points (15) and steals (six) to help the UTEP women’s basketball team topple Weber State, 70-51, at the Don Haskins Center on Dec. 5. Katarina Zec (15 points) and Katia Gallegos (12 points) also reached double figures in the Miners’ (7-1) fourth consecutive win. The Wildcats (1-5) put up quite a fight, but UTEP had enough in the tank to continue its best start to a year during the Kevin Baker era. UTEP won the boards (42-35), thanks primarily to Ariona Gill’s career-high 14 rebounds. Gill added seven points to flirt with the double-double. But the night was stolen by Rochelle, who was electric in her 21 minutes off the pine. She connected on 6-10 from the floor, in addition to going 3-3 at the free throw line. Her presence was equally felt on the defensive end where she came up one steal shy of cracking UTEP’s top-10 single-game list. Another factor was the Miners’ defense forcing 31 turnovers, the most by a UTEP opponent in four years. WSU was held to 35.6 percent (16-45) from the floor, including 23.1 percent (3-13) from 3-point range. UTEP connected on 34.4 percent from the floor but made up for it by getting to the free throw line 39 times (24 makes). The Miners had 12 assists on their 21 field goals made, with freshman Katia Gallegos tallying a game-high five.

AT UTEP 71, GEORGIA STATE 68, 11/30/19

Freshmen Arina Khlopkova (career-best 20 points) Avery Crouse (career-best 13 points) and Katia Gallegos (11 points, career-high eight rebounds) all had big nights to help lead the UTEP women’s basketball team to a 71-68 victory against Georgia State in its final game of the Eighth-Annual UTEP Thanksgiving Classic on Nov. 30, 2019. The Miners (6-1) forced 20 turnovers, including Khlopkova drawing a charge late in the game, to help topple the upset-minded Panthers. There were eight ties and nine lead changes in a back-and-forth battle. It was tied at 68 with 1:42 to play when Gallegos split through traffic for the go-ahead lay-up. Georgia State missed a pair of shots to either tie or retake the lead late, and Khlopkova put the finishing touches on the win with a free throw with seven seconds left. UTEP overcame an off shooting night (37.1 percent) by taking care of business at the charity stripe (19-24, 79.2 percent) and turning up the pressure to force the aforementioned 20 turnovers. Sabine Lipe came off the bench to chip in four points, four rebounds and four assists while Ariana Taylor netted six points to go along with two boards. UTEP took good care of the ball, committing only 11 turnovers.

FRESHMEN POWER 

Freshmen Arina Khlopkova (career-best 20 points) Avery Crouse (career-best 13 points) and Katia Gallegos (11 points) all hit double digits in scoring in UTEP’s win against Georgia State on Nov. 30. It marked the first time that three Miner freshmen scored at least 10 points in the same game against a Division I opponent since 2004-05 at Boise State (3/3/05).  In that game the effort was courtesy of Dana Penno (14 points), Izabela Piekarska (14 points), and Kasia Krezel (10 points). 

AT UTEP 76, WESTERN MICHIGAN 46, 11/29/19

The UTEP women’s basketball team surged out to a 23-point lead at the half (38-15) en route to knocking off Western Michigan, 76-46, at the Eighth-Annual UTEP Thanksgiving Classic Friday afternoon.  The Miners (5-1) shot 49.2 percent (30-61) from the floor and won the boards (47-32) to handle the Broncos (2-3). UTEP also got after it on defense by holding WMU to 28.1 percent (16-64) and forcing 18 turnovers to keep them 28 points below their scoring average (74.0) entering the game.  Arina Khlopkova (career-high 14 points), Katarina Zec (12 points) and Michelle Pruitt (10 points) all hit double figures in scoring to pace UTEP. Tia Bradshaw (career-best eight points) also had a career scoring day. Ariona Gill (10 rebounds) led the charge on the glass while Zec secured a season-high eight boards. UTEP shared the ball well, with 20 assists on 30 field goals, with Katia Gallegos (five) and Avery Crouse (career-best four) leading the way in the department.

AT UTEP 65, NM STATE 45, 11/23/19

Senior Ariona Gill posted a double-double (13 points, 11 rebounds), and UTEP defended with furor in a 65-45 vanquishing of I-10 rival NM State to complete the season sweep of the Aggies at the Don Haskins Center on Nov. 23. The Miners led wire-to-wire in the 20-point victory against the Aggies. UTEP held NM State to 33.9 percent (21-62) from the floor, including a paltry 6.7 percent (1-15) from 3-point range. The Miners also forced 19 turnovers, which led to 19 points, and crushed the Aggies on the boards, 51-30. Freshman Katia Gallegos turned in an outstanding all-around effort. She scored 10 points while setting career highs in rebounds (seven), assists (six) and steals (four) in 29 minutes of action. Senior Katarina Zec also hit double digits (11 points) in scoring for the fifth time in as many games on the year while freshman Avery Crouse netted eight points. UTEP shot 41.5 percent (27-65) from the floor, including 52.9 percent (9-17) during a second quarter where it outscored the visitors, 20-10. But the Miners’ defense stole the show. UTEP set season bests for fewest points allowed (45) and 3-point percentage defense (6.7 percent). The Aggies had 25 points through three quarters before putting up 20 points in the final frame, when the outcome was already decided. 

NEW MEXICO 93, AT UTEP 78, 11/19/19

UTEP put up 78 points while shooting 49 percent from the floor, but it wasn’t enough to keep up with high-octane New Mexico in a 93-78 setback at the Don Haskins Center on Nov. 19. Nearly 1,500 fans, most of them young students, made for an entertaining atmosphere on the Miners’ “Education Day” game, but the Lobos emerged victorious in a battle of unbeatens. Katarina Zec (16 points), Tatyana Modawar (career-high 12 points) and Katia Gallegos (10 points) all hit double figures in scoring for UTEP. Ariona Gill flirted with a double-double (eight points, 10 rebounds) while Avery Crouse netted nine and Ariana Taylor chipped in seven points. UNM relied on a barrage of 3-pointers (12-29), an extremely good day at the line (17-19) and winning the boards (41-30) to outlast the Miners. The Lobos had a 24-14 margin on second-chance points while also holding advantages for points in the paint (38-28) and fastbreak points (34-12). UTEP lost for just the second time (14-2) of the Kevin Baker era when scoring at least 70 points.

AT UTEP 92, ALCORN STATE 47, 11/16/19

UTEP raced out to an 18-point lead (28-10) after the first quarter and never looked back in a 92-47 win against Alcorn State at the Don Haskins Center on Nov. 16. Katarina Zec (17 points) led a quartet of Miners (3-0) in double figures for scoring in the wire-to-wire victory against the Lady Braves (0-4). Ariona Gill (14 points, game-high seven rebounds), Michelle Pruitt (13 points) and freshman Avery Crouse (career-high 10 points) buoyed fellow starter Zec. The bench did its part too by piling up 34 points, with Ariana Taylor (nine points) setting the tone for the reserves. DejaNae Roebuck (career-high tying seven points) nearly matched Taylor. UTEP registered 23 assists on 34 field goals, won the boards (44-26) and forced 28 turnovers that were converted into 27 points. The Miners shot 54.8 percent (34-62) from the floor, including 39.1 percent (9-23) from distance. Alcorn State was held to 32.0 percent (16-50) shooting. It marked the third 90+ point scoring contest under head coach Kevin Baker, who has his squad off to a 3-0 start for the second time in three seasons.  

UTEP 63, AT NM STATE 57, 11/13/19

Senior Katarina Zec scored 17 points, including a go-ahead three pointer with two minutes to play in the game, to help lift UTEP to a 63-57 win at I-10 rival NM State on Nov. 9. The effort secured the Miners’ third straight 2-0 start under head coach Kevin Baker. Furthermore, they picked up their first road win against the Aggies since 2015-16. Junior transfer Michelle Pruitt (14 points) and freshman Katia Gallegos (13 points) joined Zec in double figures for scoring, while senior Ariona Gill pitched in seven points to go along with a team-best eight rebounds. Ariana Taylor came off the bench to score nine points, in addition to setting up Zec’s clutch trey. It was a back-and-forth game with 12 ties and 19 lead changes, with the final change coming down the stretch. NM State led by two (57-55) with 3:24 to play, but UTEP closed the game on a 6-0 push to stay perfect on the young season. Zec provided the go-ahead score with a knockdown triple off a cross-court pass by Taylor. 

AT UTEP 63, UC RIVERSIDE 60, 11/9/19

UTEP bolted out to a 19-point lead (33-14) at the half on the way to defeating UC Riverside, 63-50, at the Don Haskins Center on Nov. 9. The Miners led wire-to-wire against the Highlanders, who were playing for the third time in five days to start the season. UTEP took advantage of that fact, turning up the heat defensively with a pressing defense that forced 28 turnovers. Those giveaways led to 25 points. Katarina Zec tallied 18 points to lead a balanced offensive attack that featured six different players with at least six points. Freshman Katia Gallegos debuted with nine points, five assists, two steals and no turnovers in a squad-high 34 minutes of playing time. Junior transfer Michelle Pruitt (eight points, 10 rebounds) flirted with a double-double while fellow classmate and transfer DejaNae Roebuck came off the bench to score seven points. UTEP got to the free throw line 30 times and took 60 shots to the Highlanders’ 41 attempts. The discrepancy came from UCR’s 28 turnovers compared to only 15 by the Orange and Blue. 

STIFLING DEFENSE

UTEP locked down on UCR (11/9) from the onset, limiting the Highlanders to four points in the first quarter. It tied as the third-lowest points allowed in a frame by the Miners. Additionally, the 50 points allowed were the fewest in a season opener since 2006-07.

EXHIBITION REWIND

UTEP prepped for the 2019-20 season by posting a pair of victories against Division II opponents in exhibition contests. The Miners downed Eastern New Mexico, 84-64, (Oct. 26), while also besting St. Mary’s (TX) (Nov. 2), 59-47. Katarina Zec averaged 20.5 points per game to lead the unit, with transfer Michelle Pruitt (10.5 ppg) also checking in for double figures. UTEP had a +9.0 rebounding margin (41.5-32.5) during the contests. The Miners also forced 24.0 turnovers per game, which made up for the opposition hitting 41.2 percent (42-102) from the floor in the two contests. 

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