EL PASO, Texas – The UTEP women’s basketball team bolted out to a 19-point lead at the half on the way to defeating UC Riverside, 63-50, at the Don Haskins Center Saturday evening.
The Miners (1-0) led wire-to-wire against the Highlanders (1-2), 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 29 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 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.
The Miners improved to 3-0 under head coach Kevin Baker in season openers.
“It was a great team win for us and I’m super excited about the way our team played” Baker said. “We pressed for 40 minutes, and that’s not an easy thing to do. I’m really proud of them and hope to grow with this. Our journey began tonight and it was a good way to start, but we’ve got a long way to go.”
UTEP started with a sizzle, bolting out to a 10-0 advantage at the 5:21 mark. The Miners forced six turnovers in the stretch, forcing UCR to call timeout to regroup. The visitors settled down some, but UTEP still carried a 10-point cushion (14-4) through 10 minutes of action.
It was back-and-forth over the first several minutes of the second quarter before the Orange and Blue blitzed the Highlanders with a 9-0 surge to jump ahead by 21 (28-7) with 2:42 to play in the half. UCR finally ended the surge, but the Miners’ margin was still formidable at 19 (33-14) heading into halftime.
UCR opened up the second half on a 10-3 push to trim the UTEP advantage to 12 (36-24) before Zec scored on a backdoor layup. After the Highlanders inched within 11, the Miners peeled off seven straight points to go back out by 18 (44-26) with 2:19 left in the quarter. It remained an 18-point cushion (46-28) after three quarters of action.
The visitors chipped away at UTEP’s lead in the final frame, but the Miners refused to let them get any closer than 10 points the rest of the way.
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. on Wednesday. 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.