UTEP women’s basketball to host UC Riverside in season opener


Photo Courtesy: UTEP Athletics

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – The UTEP women’s basketball team will tip off the 2019-20 season when it plays host to UC Riverside at 7 p.m. MT Saturday. Fans who buy a ticket to the UTEP football game against Charlotte (1 p.m. MT Saturday) may bring that ticket to the Don Haskins Center to get a group ticket price for entrance into the UCR contest. Otherwise tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for kids, and may be bought by calling (915) 747-5234. The game will be streamed on CUSA.TV (subscription based) and broadcast locally on 600 ESPN El Paso.

Start it Up

UTEP is 25-20 all time in season openers, including 21-7 when doing so in El Paso. Overall in home openers, the Miners stand 28-14 (missing outcomes in some years). They are 2-0 under Kevin Baker in season lidlifters.

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 UC RIVERSIDE (0-1 overall; 0-1 home; 0-1 ROAD)

UC Riverside returned nine letter winners, including four starters, from last year’s team that finished 17-16, 10-6 Big West. UCR advanced to the WBI, falling in the first round. This year the Highlanders were tabbed third in the Preseason Big West Conference poll by both the coaches and the media, with Jannon Otto and Marina Ewodo landing on the Preseason All-Big West Team. It has back its top scorer (Otto-15.2 ppg), rebounder (Daphne Gnago-7.7 rpg) and distributor (Otto-3.5 apg).The Highlanders also have a quartet of newcomers, including transfers Ann Jernigan (Old Dominion) and Aiyanna Barnes (Loyola Marymount). UCR is in the midst of serving as the season-opening opponent for three straight games in the Southwest, having fallen, 80-70, at New Mexico (Nov. 5). It will conclude the swing with match-ups at NM State (Nov. 7) and at UTEP (Nov. 9). UC Riverside was established in 1954. Notable alumni include Dr. Richard R. Schrock (Nobel Prize in Chemistry recipient) and Brenda Martinez (2016 Olympian in the 1500m).


“UC Riverside had a great season last year. They have four starters back. They are very, very impressive. They’re playing at New Mexico, at NM State and then come down to play us. They’re not shying away from competition.”


UTEP leads the series, 2-1, with the two squads set to square off for the second time in the past three years. Most recently UTEP emerged with a 73-62 road win against the Highlanders on Dec. 30, 2017. The first two match-ups were both in El Paso. UCR claimed the first game, 63-61, on Dec. 16, 2000, but most recently UTEP secured a 68-57 triumph on Nov. 27, 2015. 

LAST MEETING WITH UCR: (UTEP 73, AT UCR 62, Dec. 30, 2017)

Najala Howell poured in a career-high 23 points while Tamara Seda notched her second straight double-double (21 points, 14 rebounds) to help power UTEP to a wire-to-wire 73-62 win at UC Riverside on Dec. 30, 2017. The Miners bolted out to a 20-point lead at the half and led by 17 with six minutes to play before the Highlanders scored the next 12 points in the game to cut the margin down to five (67-62). UTEP kept its composure while regaining momentum for good on a triple by Howell to help fuel a game-closing 6-0 run. Faith Cook, who finished with seven points and six assists, set up both field goals down the stretch. UTEP connected on 43.9 percent (29-66) from the floor, aided by drilling 20-36 during the impressive opening half. The Miners dished out a season-high 20 assists while finishing with a season-low 14 turnovers for the second time in as many nights. Zuzanna Puc joined Howell and Seda in double figures for scoring with a campaign-high 15 points in 25 minutes of action off the pine. 

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. 


UTEP will play a total of 18 home games in 2019-20, 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.


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: 370-167, COLLEGE: 148-66, UTEP: 26-36)

Kevin Baker is in his third year (26-36) at the helm of the UTEP women’s basketball team. He has 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 (370-167) as a head coach, including his eighth season (148-66) 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 13-1 (0-0 this year) when scoring 70+ points under Kevin Baker. Other notable records in the Baker era include being 12-4 (0-0 this season) when drilling better than 40 percent from 3-point range (min. four makes), 11-4 (0-0 this year) when shooting at least 50 percent from the floor, 19-8 (0-0 this year) when holding the opponent to below 40.0 percent from the floor, 18-8 (0-0 this year) when leading after three quarters and 18-10 (0-0 this season) when up at the half.


UTEP has only won three games under Kevin Baker when it has not won the boards. The Miners are 3-17 in the Baker era when they have not outrebounded their opponent. Those records includes an 0-1 mark when the rebounds are equal.


UTEP is 573-684 in its 46th season as a women’s basketball program, including finishing 9-22 last 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 155-102 since the start of the 2011-12 season. 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 has an all-time home record of 364-230, including finishing 4-11 in the Don Haskins Center in 2018-19. Seven of the 11 losses last season were by four points or less, including three by a single point. The Miners have amassed a record of 166-56 at home since 2006-07, including 99-39 since 2011-12. UTEP has been particularly strong in nonconference play, standing 82-17 in the Sun City in such contests since 2006-07. 


UTEP is 147-372 all time on the road, including finishing 3-9 in the situation in 2018-19. 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 65-79 on the road, including 41-48 since 2011-12. 


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). 

Next Up

UTEP will play the first of just two nonconference road contests when it squares off against NM State in the Battle of I-10 in Las Cruces, N.M. It will be the first of two meetings on the season between the programs, with the Aggies making the return visit to the Don Haskins Center on Nov. 23.

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