Miners prepare for preseason C-USA favorites Middle Tennessee

January 7, 2016

Coming off a hot start in conference play, the Lady Miners will host their C-USA home opener against Middle Tennessee on Thursday, Jan. 7, in the Haskins Center.

UTEP (12-1, 2-0) meets with Middle Tennessee (7-5, 1-0) for just the third time in program history; however, this matchup is more intense for head coach Keitha Adams and her team. Last year the Miners lost both in both meetings against the Blue Raiders, 74-53 and 69-58, respectively.

Even though UTEP enters the game with more wins and fewer losses, Middle Tennessee stands out as the favor to win the game. The Blue Raiders were projected to win the conference by the coaches’ votes.

“We haven’t ever beat them,” said Adams. “They’re a little bit similar to Long Beach State defensively.”

Adams went on to agree that her squad has something to prove and the win would be ‘big’ for her team.

Since the loss to Long Beach State (47-40), the Miners have won three games in a row, including a win over UNLV (60-52) and two wins against conference foes on the road, Rice (60-54) and North Texas (75-67). Starting off with two opening wins in C-USA for the fifth straight year is not uncommon for the bunch, as they have done so eight times overall.

And the effort steams from the defensive side of the ball. The Miners have held opponents to 56.1 points per game; but keeping teams in low scoring is not even the meat of the defense.

Takeaways have been a key statistic to this team. UTEP is averaging 12.1 steals per game, which ranks first in C-USA and 11th in the nation. They also rank first in Conference USA in turnovers per game (22.3) and holding opponents to 35.1 percent.

Offensively, the Miners are very evenly balanced. Five different guards add up over 7.0 points per game. The offense puts up 70.8 ppg and averages 42.9 percent from the floor. They lead C-USA in made free throws (175-for-258).

Leading the team, Jenzel Nash has contributed with 13.0 points per game. Following the stellar guard scoring are Starr Breedlove (11.7 ppg), Sparkle Taylor (10.3) Cmaesha Turner (10.3) and Lulu McKinney (7.4).

“We’ve tried to concentrate on rebounding,” Adams said. “Offensively we’ve tried to do things to off-set their pressure on certain places on the floor.”

Even though she has some rocky games under her belt, Breedlove has emerged within the past games into a true leader for her offense. She totaled 40 points and shot 46.4 percent from the floor in the first two conference games. Breedlove has also recorded four-or-more steals in six straight games. She is only the second Miner since ’83-84 to achieve that goal.

On the other end, the projected preseason Conference USA champions are in line to have a promising year. Led by standout guard Olivia Jones, this Middle Tennessee squad has endured a tough road during the first half of the season, of which they believe will stand as beneficial to their conference schedule.

Their non-conference schedule ranked first amongst other C-USA teams. They faced the likes of Virginia, Ole Miss, Alabama, Xavier and Kentucky. They posted victories over Ole Miss (84-75) and Xavier (62-53).

Jones leads the Blue Raiders offensively, and is no stranger to the Miners. She set her career high 31 points against UTEP last season. Named Preseason Player of the Year, Jones has lived up to the hype. She currently averages 9.6 ppg, 6.4 boards per game and 2.1 steals per game.

The Miners also have to reckon with senior guard Brea Edwards of the Blue Raiders. She is second nationally in 3-point shots per game (3.6) and is among the nation’s leaders in 3-point field goal percentage, scoring and free throw percentage.

“We’ve been concentrating on their guard personnel. We understand we have to guard their shooters and we’re going to have to be physical with their post and keep them up high.”

This game is one of three UTEP will play at home. After the Blue Raiders, the Miners will face UAB (5 p.m. Sunday) and UTSA (1 p.m., Jan. 17).

Adrian Broaddus may be reached at [email protected]

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