THE OPENING TIP
The UTEP women’s basketball team (6-18, 3-8 C-USA) will look to build on its first league road sweep in three seasons when it plays host to LA Tech (13-11, 5-6 C-USA) on Valentine’s Day (Thursday) at 7 p.m. at the Don Haskins Center. Tickets are only $2 in celebration of Valentine’s Day, and may be purchased by calling (915) 747-5234. The contest is the first of three straight in the Sun City for the Miners, with Southern Miss (1 p.m., Feb. 16) and UTSA (1 p.m., Feb. 23) also making the trek to El Paso. Admission will be free for “National Girls and Women in Sports Day” versus UTSA. Southern Miss is the pink “Play4Kay” game for breast cancer awareness. The Miners enter Thursday’s match-up with momentum, having won back-to-back games for the first time since starting the season at 2-0. UTEP posted its second-biggest road conference win in program history (70-44) at FAU (Feb. 7) before grinding out a 60-55 win at FIU (Feb. 9). The Lady Techsters also are on a roll, entering on their third three-game winning streak this season. Led by the nation’s fourth-leading scorer (Kierra Anthony, 24.0 ppg), most recently LA Tech posted a 106-85 home rout of Southern Miss (Feb. 9). It is the lone scheduled match-up on the year between the programs. UTEP is 2-9 on the season at home (0-4 in C-USA action), with six of those setbacks coming by four points or less. The Miners lost back-to-back three-point heartbreakers (L, 63-60, Marshall, Jan. 31 and L, 64-61, WKU, Feb. 2) on their last homestand, marking the first time in program history that they fell in consecutive league home contests (without a road game in-between) by three points or less. LA Tech stands 4-6 on the road (1-3 C-USA). Thursday’s game will be broadcast locally on 600 ESPN El Paso with Steve Kaplowitz and Traci Miller on the call. There will also be a live stream on CUSAtv.com (subscription based).
UTEP has been hit hard by injuries, with the Miners having dressed seven players in five straight contests.Ariona Gill, who had missed eight straight games (final nonconference, first seven C-USA), has come off the bench in four consecutive contests butSabine Lipe (eight straight), Jordan Jenkins (five straight) and Alexa Hoy (five straight) continue to be sidelined. Lipe and Jenkins are not expected back this season while Hoy’s return is doubtful.
HE SAID IT (COACH BAKER ON LA TECH)
“They have one of one of the best scoring players in the country in Kierra Anthony. She’s capable of scoring 50 points in a game. They scored 106 points against Southern Miss (Feb. 9), and she had a truckload of points. They can just really score the ball. They’re a dangerous team because they can explode for points. It will be a tough test for us. I’m glad we are playing at home. Having four out of our last five in the Don Haskins Center means a lot to us, and we hope that will at least give us some advantage against LA Tech.”
THE SERIES (OVERALL: LA TECH LEADS, 12-6; IN EL PASO: TIED, 5-5)
LA Tech leads the series, 12-6, but the Miners are 6-3 since the Lady Techsters joined Conference USA in 2013-14. UTEP is also 5-5 all-time vs. LA Tech when playing in El Paso, including 4-1 in C-USA regular-season or tournament contests. The Lady Techsters won the first nine meetings between the schools, when both were members of the Western Athletic Conference. LA Tech is making the trip to El Paso for the second straight season. Last year the Lady Techsters edged out UTEP, 65-62, on Feb. 18, 2018, marking their victory win against the Miners in El Paso since joining C-USA.
GET TO KNOW LA TECH (13-11, 5-6 C-USA; 8-4 HOME; 4-6 AWAY; 1-1 NEUTRAL)
LA Tech returned four starters and nine letterwinners from last year’s team (19-12, 10-6 C-USA). The Lady Techsters posted an 8-5 mark in nonconference play before a 2-6 start to C-USA action, mainly due to a brutal slate. They have turned it around since, winning three straight games by double figures. LA Tech has high-flying offense (74.4 ppg, second C-USA/48th NCAA), which is averaging 89 points on 51 percent shooting and 47 percent from the 3-point line the past six games. The past two games it has shot better than 60 percent, and is coming off a 106-85 home rout of Southern Miss (Feb. 9). It also is among the league leaders and the top-100 nationally for free throws made (345, second/17th), free throws attempted (473, third/27th), total assists (351, second/54th), field-goal percentage (43.1, sixth/59th), total rebounds (914, fourth/65th), free-throw percentage (72.9, first/67th), 3-point percentage (33.6, fifth/84th), assists per game (14.6, second/91st) and 3-pointers made (154, sixth/97th). Headlining the attack is Kierra Anthony, who is putting up 24.0 ppg (first C-USA/fourth NCAA). Anthony has connected on 217 shots (first C-USA/second NCAA) of 440 field goal attempts (first NCAA). She has also made a living at the charity stripe, making 115 (first C-USA/17th NCAA) out of 130 attempts (third C-USA/39th NCAA) for a readout of 88.5 percent (first C-USA/18th NCAA). Anthony also gets after it on defense with 1.96 steals per game (fourth C-USA/143rd NCAA). She has hit double figures in scoring in all 24 contests this season, and has put up at least 30 points six different times. Second-leading scorer (Taylor Stahly (9.1 ppg) does most of her work from distance, placing in the league and NCAA ratings for 3-pointers made (54, fourth/82nd) and 3-pointers attempted (fourth/97th). LA Tech has incredible tradition, with the third-most wins (1123) by a women’s program in the country. It has appeared in 27 NCAA Tournaments, 13 Final fours, eight national title games while winning it all in 1981 (AIAW), 1982 and 1988 (NCAA). Notable school alumni include Trace Adkins (country music star) and Phil Robertson (cast member of A&E’s Duck Dynasty).
LAST MEETING WITH LA TECH (LA TECH 65, AT UTEP 62, 2/10/18)
Tamara Seda poured in 23 points whileKatarina Zec (15 points) and Zuzanna Puc (13 points) also hit double figures in scoring but visiting LA Tech snuck past UTEP, 65-62, at the Don Haskins Center on Feb. 10, 2018. The Miners led by one (33-32) at the half but the Lady Techsters opened up the second half on a 14-2 run to surge out by 11 (46-35) with 7:03 to play in the period. As it has done all year long, UTEP regrouped and attempted to mount a rally. It wrapped a 7-0 run around the third and fourth-quarter break to get within three with 9:01 remaining in regulation. The Miners cut it to two on a pair of occasions but never could climb all the way back. A desperation off-balanced 3-point shot from Puc hit the side of the rim as time expired, allowing LA Tech to hold on for the win. UTEP shot a better percentage (46.2-42.6) than LA Tech, hit more overall field goals (24-23) and held a slight advantage on the boards (32-31) but the Lady Techsters nailed 8-18 from distance compared to the Miners’ 2-11 to make up for those areas. The Miners had big games from Seda, Zec and Puc but no one else on the squad scored more than six points.Faith Cook contributed through her passing with a season-high tying six assists. LA Tech was paced by a double-double from Alexus Malone (21 points, 11 rebounds) while Kierra Anthony (15 points) and Taylor Stahly (10 points) chipped in as well.
UTEP IN THE C-USA STANDINGS
UTEP enters Thursday’s contest against LA Tech at 3-8 in league play, putting it alone in 11th place in the Conference USA standings. The Miners have a one-game lead on 12th-place FAU (2-9 C-USA) and a two-tilt cushion on both FIU (1-10 C-USA) and UTSA (1-10 C-USA). They own the tiebreaker with both FAU and FIU and are 1-0 on the year against UTSA (will play again in El Paso on Feb. 23). The Miners haven’t clinched one of the 12 coveted spots in the C-USA Championships (March 13-17), but they are in much better position than a week ago.
GOING BACK IN TIME (UTEP 60, AT FIU 55, 2/9/19)
Zuzanna Puc (19 points),Katarina Zec (16 points) and Neidy Ocuane (career-high tying 14 points), all had big days to help UTEP grind out a 60-55 win at FIU on Feb. 9. The Miners’ second straight win secured the sweep on the trip to the “Sunshine State,” with UTEP having posted its second-biggest road conference win in program history (70-44) at FAU (Feb. 7) just two days prior. It is the first road sweep in league play for UTEP in three years (wins at Southern Miss and at LA Tech in Feb. 2016), but the Panthers didn’t make it easy. FIU jumped out by five (7-2) midway through the opening frame. The Miners countered by wrapping a 16-7 run around the quarter break to surge into the lead (18-14), one they would never relinquish. UTEP countered every Panthers’ push and survived some serious foul trouble to secure back-to-back victories for the first time since starting the season at 2-0. Making the feat even more impressive is that UTEP dressed just seven players for the fifth consecutive contest. It also navigated through Puc andAriana Taylor both picking up their fourth foul of the contest with more than seven minutes to play in regulation. Puc poured in 17 in her points in the opening half before being saddled with foul trouble. She had 10 alone in the first quarter, helping keep UTEP in the game (12-12) before her other teammates got things going. Zec had 10 of her 16 after the break, while Ocuane had eight of 14 in the stretch as well. Jordan Alexander finished with six points and six points in 34 gritty minutes while Jade Rochelle pulled down five rebounds and sank two free throws. Ariona Gill chipped in two points and four boards and Taylor had three assists, three rebounds and a key free throw late. UTEP registered 12 assists on its 18 made field goals, including a team-high five helpers from Zec. The Miners excelled at the charity stripe, making 16-20, while also winning the rebounding battle (36-30). Puc recorded a team-best nine rebounds while Alexander (six), Zec (six) and Rochelle (five) also got after it on the glass. UTEP also defended well, holding FIU to 36.4 percent shooting (20-55).
PROGRESS IN THE FIRST QUARTER
UTEP was outscored by a combined 67 points (142-75) in first-quarter play over the first seven league contests (1-6 record). It has a +17 differential (65-48) in the opening frame in the four games since (2-2 record)
TRACKING THE OPPOSITION
UTEP’s 18 setbacks have come against teams that are a combined 260-153 (63.0 percent) on the season, with fifteen currently boasting winning records. Overall the Miners’ opponents have a combined record of 299-257 (55.9 percent).
SOME CLOSE CALLS
UTEP has eight losses on the season by seven points or less, with a pair of one-point setbacks, one by two points, two by three points, one by four points, one by five points and one by seven points. The Miners have held a lead in 11 of the defeats, including double-digit advantages against WKU (2/2/19), Marshall (1/31/19), at New Mexico (12/5/18) and Arkansas State (12/1/18).
INDIVIDUAL QUICK HITTERS
Jordan Jenkins has missed five straight games with an injury suffered at Old Dominion (Jan. 24) and is not expected back this year … she had played in every game, including making nine starts, before the injury … Jordan Alexander has pulled down at least five rebounds in three straight games for the first time since an eight-contest stretch late in nonconference play … the majority (112 of 131) of her rebounds have been at the defensive end … logged 34+ minutes in back-to-back games for the first time this season and second occasion of her career … 0-8 from distance the past three games … hit 4-of-6 at the charity stripe at FIU (Feb. 9), equaling her second-most free throws in a contest this season … Neidy Ocuane equaled her career best for points (14) and field goals made (four) at FIU (Feb. 9) … played 25+ minutes in five straight games after surpassing 25 minutes in a game just once the first 19 contests of the campaign … scored at least six points in four of the past six contests after doing so twice previously in her career … was 3-8 on triples at FIU (Feb. 9) to break out of 0-7 stretch in the two games beforehand … nearly perfect (15-of-16) at the charity stripe the past seven games … Zuzanna Puc is averaging 18.0 points and 10.4 rebounds in 35.0 mpg the past five games … shooting 56.7 percent (34-60) from the floor, including 66.7 percent (8-12) on triples, while connecting on 82.4 percent (14-17) at the free-throw line during the hot streak … reached double figures in five straight games for the first time of career (prior best four in a row, twice) … grabbed at least seven rebounds in eight straight games for the first time of her career (prior best three in a row) … played 30+ minutes in eight consecutive contests, also a first for Puc (prior long three straight, four times ) … drilled a career-high tying three triples at FIU (Feb. 9) … blocked multiple shots in back-to-back contests for the first time of her career … Jade Rochelle ranks second on the team in offensive boards (40) and third in rebounds per game (4.6) despite rating seventh on the squad in minutes per game (18.8) … played 24+ minutes in three straight games for the first time of her career … only player on the squad to have not started at least once this season …Ariona Gill started the first 12 contests, contributing 11.2 ppg, and 4.9 rpg in 29.0 mpg before missing eight in a row with an injury (UTEP was 1-7 without her) … has come in the bench in four straight games (UTEP is 2-2 in stretch) since her return to action, chipping in 2.3 ppg and 2.0 rpg in 14.5 mpg while working her way back into form … played less than 20 minutes in each of the past four games, something she did just once in her first 11 contests of the campaign … matched her career high in steals (two) at FIU (Feb. 9) … Sabine Lipe has missed eight straight games due to getting hurt at Rice (Jan. 12) and is not expected to return … chipped in 3.2 ppg and 2.3 rpg in 13.8 mpg before going down with the injury …Alexa Hoy has missed five straight games due to an injury suffered at Old Dominion (Jan. 24), and her return to action this season is doubtful … she had led UTEP in scoring (11.8 ppg), assists (3.0 apg) and minutes per game (37.0) over the first five C-USA contests before getting hurt at ODU … Ariana Taylor dished out a career-best three assists at FIU (Feb. 9), which came on the heels of two helpers (then career high) at FAU (Feb. 7) … limited to 22 minutes at both FAU (Feb. 7) and at FIU (Feb. 9) due to foul trouble (finished with four in each) … Katarina Zec has reached double figures in scoring in five straight games for the first time of her career (prior best three in a row, twice in 2017-18) … averaging 14.8 points, on 50.9 percent shooting (28-55) from the floor, to go along with 5.0 rpg and a team-high 3.8 apg in a squad-most 38.2 mpg in the stretch … played 35+ minutes in six straight games for the first time of her career (prior best two in a row, with both in 2017-18) … scored 16+ points in three straight games after having never posted back-to-back such efforts the first 77 contests of her career.
TRENDING WITH THE TEAM
Won 60-55 at FIU (Feb. 9) to secure its first victory of the season by five points or less (had been 0-7 on the year) … led at the half in four straight games for the first time this year and the third occasion under head coach Kevin Baker … posted its first conference road sweep in three years (wins at Southern Miss and at LA Tech in Feb. 2016) with victories at FAU (70-44, Feb. 7) and FIU (60-55, Feb. 9) … the 26-point outcome at FAU was the second-biggest margin of victory for a conference game in program history … it also matched the biggest win differential under Baker … riding back-to-back wins since starting season 2-0 … dressed seven players in five straight games … combined 76-96 (79.2 percent) at charity stripe the past six contests after making 54-89 (60.7 percent) the four games beforehand … yielded 55 points or less in back-to-back conference games for the first time since a three-contest stretch in 2015-16 … hit 8-20 (40.0 percent) from distance at FIU (Feb. 9), its best percentage since also going 8-20 in the league opener at UTSA (Jan. 5) … held four straight opponents to below 40.0 percent shooting for the first time this season … won the rebounding battle in three straight games for the first time since also doing so over the first three contests of the campaign … outscored opposition, 251-226 the past four games (2-2 record) … in the midst (2-2 thus far) of playing six of nine games at home to close out the regular season for the first time since joining Conference USA in 2005-06 … that includes playing four of five in El Paso to cap off the regular season.