EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – 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 Thursday evening.
The Miners (8-4, 1-0 C-USA) allowed the fewest points in a conference game in program history on the way to toppling the Panthers (3-9, 0-1 C-USA) by 30. Furthermore UTEP moved to 3-0 in league lidlifters under head coach Kevin Baker.
“That was a great team win and a great team effort,” Baker said. “Any time you can hold a team to in the 30’s for scoring you’ve done a good job. We really guarded to the scouting report well. (Assistant) Coach Anthony Anderson did a great job with the scout, and the team did a great job executing it on the defensive end of things. We were very aggressive on offense. We scored 26 points in the first quarter. That’s the way this team needs to play.”
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.
It was back-and-forth over the first six minutes of the contest before UTEP found another level. The Miners closed the quarter on a 15-1 run to turn a two-point margin (11-9) into a 16-point cushion (26-10) through 10 minutes of action. It was a defensive-minded second quarter, and UTEP headed into halftime up by 15.
Any aspirations of a comeback by the visitors went by the wayside in the third quarter, with UTEP outpacing the Panthers, 20-5 in the frame. That included a 15-0 surge during seven minutes of the frame, effectively putting the contest out of reach.
The Miners will wrap up their opening homestand of Conference USA play when they welcome Florida Atlantic to the Don Haskins Center for a 1 p.m. MT match-up on Saturday.