Women’s basketball looks to bounce back at home

The+UTEP+women%E2%80%99s+basketball+team+will+host+No.+24+Western+Kentucky+on+Thursday+Jan.+22+at+the+Don+Haskins+Center.
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Women’s basketball looks to bounce back at home

The UTEP women’s basketball team will host No. 24 Western Kentucky on Thursday Jan. 22 at the Don Haskins Center.

The UTEP women’s basketball team will host No. 24 Western Kentucky on Thursday Jan. 22 at the Don Haskins Center.

Ruby Cerino

The UTEP women’s basketball team will host No. 24 Western Kentucky on Thursday Jan. 22 at the Don Haskins Center.

Ruby Cerino

Ruby Cerino

The UTEP women’s basketball team will host No. 24 Western Kentucky on Thursday Jan. 22 at the Don Haskins Center.

Jason Green, Staff Reporter

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The UTEP women’s basketball team is preparing to face its toughest home test of the season. On Thursday, Jan. 22, the No. 24-ranked Western Kentucky Lady Toppers will roll into town.

When it comes to Western Kentucky, roll is the keyword—Western Kentucky is 16-2 on the season and has won its last 13 games in a row. Their most recent game was an 81-42 drubbing of Florida International last Saturday.

UTEP comes into this game after losing a heartbreaker to UT San Antonio, 55-53, on Saturday afternoon. The Miners find themselves in the middle of a jumbled Conference USA standings table with Western Kentucky sitting firmly on top. Miner head coach Keitha Adams knows just how tough Thursday’s game will be.

“They’re really an excellent team,” Adams said. “We’re going to have to play a very, very, good game for 40 minutes on both ends of the floor against this good Western Kentucky team.”

In recent games, Adams has highlighted rebounding as an issue in most of the Miners losses and some wins. In Saturday’s defeat, UTEP was outrebounded by a smaller team for the entire game and lost on a put back off of UTSA’s 15th offensive rebound.

UTEP also struggled on offense, making only one 3-pointer against the Roadrunners. The team’s usual 3-point threat, senior guard Stacie Telles is trying to work her way out of a recent shooting slump.

Adams feels like the team’s practices are going well and hopes that her young team can learn from Saturday’s defeat.

“We’ve been trying to make our practices more competitive,” Adams said. “We’re doing a lot of competition within each other to help us get ready for our games, and we’re a young team. We’ve just got to learn from this last game. We’ve just got to continue to work hard and grow together.”

Western Kentucky will be one of the few teams to come into the Don Haskins Center that can match up with the Miners in the height department. The Lady Toppers have eight players over 6 feet tall. The Miners roster currently features seven players with that particular characteristic.

To make matters worse, UTEP has been without one of their best rebounders, senior guard Chrishauna Parker for most of the season. The team is still trying to find a player to step in and fight for the boards in Parker’s absence.

Recently, that player appears to be junior guard Irene Gari, who recorded a career-high 11 rebounds against Rice in early January. UTEP will need more than just Gari to step up and defend against Western Kentucky’s two towering forwards—senior Alexis Govan and senior Chastity Gooch.

“They’re both very good scoring,” said Adams. “They can shoot the outside shot. They can take it to the basket. They can put it on the floor–and they play very well together.”

With a young team still trying to gel and so much going against the Miners, as far as slumps and injuries go, there are still plenty of reasons to think that UTEP could upset a nationally ranked team come Thursday night. The Miners are 123 games over .500 when playing inside the comfort of the Don Haskins Center, and are 20-2 under coach Adams when attendance is more than 4,000.

Adams knows just how important the crowd will be when it comes to facing Western Kentucky.

“We need a big crowd to come out Thursday night. It’s going to take a great, tremendous effort from our team, and our crowd getting behind us always helps us,” Adams said. “We’ve won a lot of games in the Haskins Center and I think part of it is because we’ve had such passionate fans. We’ll need that Thursday.”

The Miners have a very quick turnaround following their battle with Western Kentucky on Thursday. On Saturday, the Marshall Thundering Herd will head into the Don Haskins to close out the longest home stand of UTEP’s season. Marshall is in the same jumble in the middle of the standings that UTEP finds themselves. Where UTEP trails Western Kentucky in almost every statistical category, Marshall trails UTEP.

The Thundering Herd is 11-5 on the season and 3-2 in conference play. After losing two of their first three conference games, Marshall is coming off two straight wins at home against Florida Atlantic and Florida International. They will make a stop in San Antonio on Thursday night to play the Roadrunners before heading to El Paso.

There have been 11 previous meetings between these two teams. Marshall holds a 7-4 advantage on the Miners. The most recent tilt, though, favored Adams’ team after a 77-50 final at the Don Haskins.

While the Miners prepare for the Lady Toppers and the Marshall Thundering Herd on Saturday, all UTEP students are preparing to head back to class for the spring.

Coach Adams feels that her student-athletes will face the upcoming semester the same as every other student and that the added pressure of playing a top-25 team will not make a difference.

“There will be an adjustment that they have to make, everybody’s going to go through it­—everybody’s starting back up. I think that a good schedule and having structure every day, that always is good—structure is good,” Adams said. “We’ll get after it. We had a very good first semester academically—so we’ll continue to work hard to make good grades this second semester.”

This week’s games are against two very different teams in size, statistics and standing. The UTEP women have a tough test ahead on the court and in the classroom. You can bet that coach Adams will have her team ready to go—on and off the court despite the beginning of a new semester. You can also bet that she wants nothing more than for all of the returning students to return to the Don Haskins Center and help her young Miners get things rolling again.

Jason Green may be reached at [email protected]