Miners return home looking to end losing streak

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Miners return home looking to end losing streak

Freshmen guard Lulu McKinney played a team-high average of 32.5 minutes per game over the last two contests.

Freshmen guard Lulu McKinney played a team-high average of 32.5 minutes per game over the last two contests.

Jason Green

Freshmen guard Lulu McKinney played a team-high average of 32.5 minutes per game over the last two contests.

Jason Green

Jason Green

Freshmen guard Lulu McKinney played a team-high average of 32.5 minutes per game over the last two contests.

Luis Gonzalez, Sports Editor

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About this time a year ago, the UTEP women’s basketball team was in the midst of a seven-game winning streak that had them fighting for the top spot in Conference USA.

The current reality of the Miners is much different from the team that finished as a runner-up of the National Invitation Tournament.

With a 3-6 record in conference, 8-10 overall, UTEP is far from the top of the standings. They return home to host Florida Atlantic and Florida International on Feb. 5, and 7, respectively.

Head coach Keitha Adams’ squad has now lost five games in a row after dropping two games on the road this past weekend to the University of Alabama at Birningham and Middle Tennessee.

In Birmingham, the Miners faced a team situated at the middle of the standings. They had a decent first half, in which the orange and blue shot 44 percent from the field, keeping the game within striking distance.

Going into the break, UTEP trailed by three, 32-29. When the game resumed for the final 20 minutes of play, the Miners could not get a shot to fall.

“We just had some really rough shooting,” Adams said. “It got away from us in the second half because we weren’t able to score.”

With about 12 minutes to go in the game and being down by five, the Miners went cold from the field.

The Blazers went on a 20-4 run in the following 10 minutes that would ultimately put the game away.

No Miner scored in double figures—junior forward Lawna Kennedy and senior guard Stacie Telles led UTEP in scoring with eight points each.

A couple of days later, the Miners were in Tennessee looking to bounce back against the league leader.

Three different players scored in double figures for UTEP, but it was not nearly enough to challenge a Middle Tennessee group that has lost only one game in conference.

The Miners struggled offensively again, shooting just over 30 percent from the field.

UTEP made only two of its first 18 shot attempts and was held without a point for the first six-and-a-half minutes of play. By the time the Miners got on the scoreboard, they were in a double-digit hole that proved too big to overcome.

“Middle Tennessee is a very good basketball team with a good one-two punch,” Adams said. “We didn’t have enough offense to match their offensive firepower. We closed it out and kept competing.”

Sophomore guard Taylor Sparkle recorded a double-double, leading the Miners in scoring with 14 points and rebounding with 10 boards. Freshman forward Daeshianna McCants scored a career-high 13 points.

After the two-game road trip, the Miners return to El Paso looking to break the negative streak and start a positive one that will carry them into the final months of the season.

First up will be the Florida Atlantic Owls on Thursday night. The 10-9, 4-4 in conference Owls, are coming off a 28-point loss to Old Dominion at home this past Saturday.

Like the Miners against Middle Tennessee, FAU struggled at the beginning of the game and were outscored 20-4 in the first 10 minutes of play. The Owls also allowed 55 rebounds, the most this season.

Still, FAU will bring to town the most recent C-USA Freshman of the Week in forward Sasha Cedeno. The 6-foot-3 freshman averaged close to 10 points and four rebounds in the past week, including a career-high-tying 15 points against Charlotte on Jan. 29.

FAU is in the top five in scoring offenses in Conference USA, averaging 69.6 points per game. However, they are the second-worst defense, allowing an average of 73.1 points per game to their opponents.

The Owls are also the worst rebounding team in the league, as they are outrebounded by an average of seven rebounds in every game.

This will be the second time the Owls and the Miners have met—FAU won the first meeting a season ago.

Once the Owls leave El Paso, another Florida team will be in town.

The Florida International Golden Panthers will come to the Don Haskins Center on Saturday, Feb. 7, after a stop in San Antonio to face UTSA on Thursday.

FIU has only three wins this year and is still looking for its first win in C-USA. With their last win coming in 2014, the Golden Cougars have lost seven straight and are one of three teams with a worse conference record than UTEP.

The Golden Cougars are among the worst in the league in both offensive and defensive scoring.

They are averaging just over 60 points a game and no one in the conference gives up more than the 74.6 average FIU is allowing opponents. In three of their last four games, the opponent has scored more than 80 points.

UTEP and FIU have played each other twice, with each team winning once.

With nine games remaining in the season, this may be as crucial a home stand as any. With a losing record and five of the last seven games on the road, the result of this weekend’s games may decide if the Miners have a chance to still save this season or just start focusing on the next.

“We aren’t where we want to be right now,” Adams said. “I don’t like it, but we have to keep working.”

Luis Gonzalez may be reached at [email protected]