Freshman Ariana Taylor reached double figures in scoring (12 points) for the second straight game but league-leading Rice used a big day on the boards and a barrage of 3-pointers to clip the Miners, 76-42, inside Tudor Fieldhouse Saturday afternoon.
The Miners (4-12, 1-2 C-USA) had an off shooting day (13-40, 32.4 percent) and also were challenged in the rebounding department (38-24), as the Owls (13-3, 4-0 C-USA) won their sixth straight game and for the 13th time in the past 14 contests. Rice connected on 50.0 percent (27-54) from the floor, including drilling 12-26 (46.2 percent) from 3-point range. It is just the third time in 47 games of the Kevin Baker era that an opponent has finished at 50.0 percent or better from the floor.
“I think what you saw today was a team that was fighting for a championship and pushing for a berth in the NCAA Tournament.” Baker said. “Our team is still climbing and trying to figure out who we are. We really struggled to put the ball in the hole. I hate that for them (the players) because they’re putting in a lot of hard work and aren’t seeing a lot of rewards for the hard work.”
Taylor came off the bench to post a team-high 12 points, giving her back-to-back double-digit scoring efforts for the first time of her career. Sophomore Alexa Hoy continued her strong play of late with nine points while senior Jordan Alexander added eight and junior Katarina Zec pitched in seven.
The Owls relied on a balanced attack, with five different players reaching double figures in scoring. Rice moved the ball effectively, piling up 21 assists on its 27 made field goals.
UTEP had an inauspicious start to the contest, with Baker forced to call a timeout after the Miners fell behind, 9-0, with 6:33 to play in the opening frame. Alexander got UTEP on the board with a pair of free throws. Hoy then started to get going, hitting a pair of triples and a jumper from the wing on the way to tallying eight points in the quarter. UTEP settled down some on defense, but still trailed by 13 (23-10) after the first quarter.
The two sides traded scores over the first five minutes of the second stanza, before a jumper from Alexander and a 3-pointer by Sabine Lipe fueled a 5-0 surge to get UTEP within single digits (31-22) with 4:05 remaining in the second quarter. Rice countered by scoring five straight of its own. The Miners tried to strike back, but were forced to settle for a 15-point deficit (40-25) heading into the locker room.
UTEP didn’t get off to the start it wanted to in the third quarter, with the Owls scoring the first nine points in the frame to put the Miners down by 24 (49-25). Zec stopped the sequence by connecting on a corner triple, but UTEP was unable to build on it. The margin was 23 (54-31) heading to the fourth quarter. The Orange and Blue continued to play hard down the stretch, but were unable to get closer than 20 the rest of the way.
UTEP will open up the home portion of its Conference USA slate by welcoming preseason favorite and defending regular-season champion UAB to the Don Haskins Center for a match-up at 7 p.m. MT on Thursday.