UTEP women’s basketball eyes 4-0 start to season, to host UNM Tuesday


EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – The UTEP women’s basketball team (3-0) will play host to Mountain West foe New Mexico (4-0) in a special 11 a.m. “Education Day” game on Tuesday. The game is the second of seven straight at home for the Miners, while the Lobos are playing their second road contest in three days.

UTEP is coming off a 45-point drubbing (92-47) of Alcorn State (Nov. 16), while the Lobos drilled NM State, 86-67, in Las Cruces on Nov. 17.


UTEP is 3-0 for the second time in the past three years under head coach Kevin Baker. A victory against the Lobos would allow them to match their best start (4-0) in the Baker era, something the Miners accomplished in 2017-18.


New Mexico is 4-0 on the season, scoring at least 80 points in each of the wins. Six players are putting up at least 9.0 points per game, with Ahlise Hurst (17.8 ppg), Javia Everett (13.5 ppg), Jaedyn De La Cerda (11.3 ppg) and former Miner Najala Howell (11.3 ppg) all in double figures for scoring. Antonia Anderson (9.3 ppg) and Jordan Hosey (9.3 ppg) have also been consistent scoring threats. UNM is accounting for 82.5 ppg (first MWC/27th NCAA) while giving up 71.0 ppg. It is forcing 25.5 turnovers per game (first MWC/12th NCAA), blocking 5.3 shots per game (first MWC/41st NCAA) and making 8.5 3-pointers per contest (second MWC/37th NCAA). The Lobos returned three starters and six letter winners overall from the team that went 24-7, 14-4 Mountain West, and competed in the 2019 WNIT. It marked UNM’s second straight 20+ win season. The Lobos have a proud tradition with 17 postseason appearances (eight NCAA, seven WNIT and two WBI) while amassing an all-time record of 667-539 since launching the program in 1974-75.  The University of New Mexico, located in Albuquerque, is the largest state school in New Mexico. It was founded in 1899. Notable alumni include Gary Berntsen (Former CIA Senior Operations Officer), Antoine Predock (Renowned architect who designed Petco Park, and Brian Urlacher (former All-Pro LB for Chicago Bears).


“New Mexico will be a great ‘measuring stick’ game for us, as the Lobos will bring in one of the top teams in the country. They play an up-tempo style and have the ability to score a lot of points quickly. We will need to defend and rebound well. Our team is playing well, and I expect a great game.”


UTEP and NM State are locking up for the sixth straight season. The Lobos have a 34-17 advantage in the series, including winning the past three contests. The Miners are 13-13 against UNM in El Paso and 5-5 vs. it overall since 2007-08. The rivalry dates to inception of the Miners’ program, with the schools squaring off at least once per year from 1974-75 through 1986-87. It resumed in 1991 and continued through 2001-02, which included a stretch when both programs were members of the WAC. 


Zuzanna Puc poured in a season-high 21 points, including 10 during a big first quarter, but UTEP couldn’t sustain its fast start in a 69-51 loss at New Mexico on Dec. 5, 2018. The Miners bolted out to a 19-10 advantage through 10 minutes of action, with Puc single-handily matching the Lobos for scoring in the frame. The home side regrouped and responded in a big way to pull away over the final three quarters. In spite of that, UTEP kept the Lobos to a season-low 69 points. UNM entered the game putting up 81 points per game and was flying high after routing NM State, 83-58, last time out on Dec. 1. Jordan Jenkins (eight points, five assists) and Jordan Alexander (seven points, nine boards) buoyed the efforts of Puc. UTEP recorded 15 assists on its 20 made field goals while also keeping things competitive on the glass (41-38, UNM). Overall the Miners connected on 36.4 percent (20-55) from the floor, including a sizzling 53.3 percent (8-15) over the first 10 minutes of action.


Katarina Zec has come out dialed in from 3-point range in 2019-20. She has drilled 9-14 (64.3 percent-second C-USA/ninth NCAA) of her 3-point attempts, including going 4-4 against UCR (11/9). That effort marked the seventh game in program history that a Miner didn’t miss (min. four attempts) on a 3-point toss. Her 3.0 triples per game is fourth in C-USA and 46th in the nation.


Katarina Zec (17.3 ppg-sixth C-USA/125th NCAA) and Michelle Pruitt (11.7 ppg) are contributing double figures in scoring, but they aren’t the only capable scorers on the roster. Five other players are pitching in at least 5.0 ppg, in the form of Ariana Taylor (9.0 ppg), Katia Gallegos (8.7 ppg), Ariona Gill (7.7 ppg), DejaNae Roebuck (5.3 ppg) and Avery Crouse (5.3 ppg).


UTEP has a +6.3 rebounding margin (41.3-35.0), and it has been a team effort on the glass. Ariona Gill (6.3 ppg) leads the way, followed by Katarina Zec (6.0 rpg) and Michelle Pruitt (6.0 rpg). Pruitt has more offensive (team-high 10) rebounds than defensive (eight), while Zec has a team-best 15 defensive caroms.


UTEP’s pressure defense has given the opposition fits, with foes making 22.3 turnovers per contest. Both UC-Riverside (11/9) and Alcorn State (11/16) had 28 giveaways. Overall the opposition has made 67 turnovers in three games compared to 52 by the Miners.  It is a stark differential from a year ago when UTEP had 16.3 turnovers per game as opposed to 11.1 turnovers by game by its foes. 


UTEP has done a good job of getting to the free-throw line. The Miners have taken 72 free throws (second C-USA/97th NCAA), while the opposition has earned 55 free throws.


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: 373-167, COLLEGE: 151-66, UTEP: 29-36)

Kevin Baker is 29-36 in his third year at the helm of the UTEP women’s basketball team, including 3-0 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 (373-167) as a head coach, including his eighth season (151-66) 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.


The Miners are 14-1 (1-0 this year) when scoring 70+ points under Kevin Baker. Other notable records in the Baker era include being 16-6 (3-0 this season) when allowing less than 60 points, 12-4 (0-0 this season) when drilling better than 40 percent from 3-point range (min. four makes), 12-4 (1-0 this year) when shooting at least 50 percent from the floor, 21-8 (2-0 this year) when holding the opponent to below 40.0 percent from the floor, 21-8 (3-0 this year) when leading after three quarters and 21-10 (3-0 this season) when up at the half.


UTEP is 576-684 in its 46th season as a women’s basketball program, including standing 3-0 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.


The Miners are 158-102 since the start of the 2011-12 season, including 3-0 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 18 separate winning streaks of at least three games (nine such skids), and posted 91 double-digit victories (53 such losses) during that time frame.


UTEP will play a total of 18 home games in 2019-20 (2-0 thus far), which will be the most in the regular season for the Miners since also doing so in 2006-07. UTEP will be home for nine of its 11 non-conference games, the exceptions being matchups at I-10 rival NM State (Nov. 13) and SMU (Dec. 19).  The first nine games of the season will either be played in El Paso or within 40 miles of it, until the Miners board a plane for the first time to battle the Mustangs in the Metroplex. There will then be nine C-USA contests at the Don Haskins Center.


UTEP has an all-time home record of 366-230, including standing 2-0 in the Don  Haskins Center this year. The Miners have amassed a record of 168-56 at home since 2006-07, including 101-39 since 2011-12. UTEP has been particularly strong in nonconference play, standing 84-17 in the Sun City in such contests since 2006-07. 


UTEP is 149-372 all time on the road, including finishing 1-0 in 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 66-79 on the road, including 42-48 since 2011-12. 


UTEP senior Katarina Zec has sprinkled her names throughout the UTEP career records. Zec is ninth for 3-pointers made (101), 3-pointers attempted (285) and games started (83), 17th for minutes played (2,509), 22nd in assists (170), 27th for points (793), 28th in field goals made (282) and tied 34th for games played (90).


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. 


UTEP will play its second rivalry game of the week when it plays host to I-10 rival NM State at 7 p.m. MT Saturday.

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