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Women’s basketball still looking for first win

Nina Titovets
UTEP women’s basketball team lost two games during their opening weekend debut to Northern Arizona and Texas Southern, respectively.

Before heading to the Virgin Islands for the Paradise Jam Tournament over the Thanksgiving break, the UTEP women’s basketball team (0-2) has one more chance to head into the tournament with a victory.

Head coach Keitha Adams’ young team has struggled so far this season and picked up losses against Northern Arizona and Texas Southern by a combined total of 35 points. In the Virgin Islands, the young team will face three currently undefeated teams in LSU (2-0), NC State (1-0) and Kansas State (1-0).

On Thursday, Nov. 17, the Western New Mexico Mustangs (2-0) come into the Don Haskins Center for what counts as an exhibition game for the Mustangs, but would be an actual and much-needed win for the Miners.

The Miners averaged 71.1 points per game last season and so far this young season, are averaging 11.6 points less per game at 59.5. One big reason for the lack of scoring could be the indefinite suspension of last season’s leading scorer, senior guard Jenzel Nash. Nash averaged 13.8 points per game last season while leading the team in scoring.

In Nash’s absence, fellow senior guard Sparkle Taylor did everything that she could to avoid only the fourth 0-2 start to a season in Adams’ 16 years as head coach. Taylor put up a career-high 28 points in the season-opening 65-51 loss to the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks, and then led the team with 14 points to go with 13 rebounds in an 89-68 loss to Texas Southern on Sunday, Nov. 13. 

Should UTEP lose to Western New Mexico—a team in which they have a 9-1 record against—the 0-3 start to the season would be Adams’s worst start to a season since she began her inaugural season at the helm of the Miners with 0-5 start in the 2009-10 season.  That season was the only time that an Adams-led team has faced the Mustangs; and the Miners won 73-56.

UTEP’s woes could lie in their shooting, where the team has gone 43-129 (.333) and 7-37 (.189) from behind the 3-point line. Last season, the team’s field goal percentage was .410 and .265 from behind the arc. Adams has had to work with eight new players this season—something that has rarely been done during her 16 seasons at UTEP.

Besides Taylor, no other player on the roster has averaged even in double digits as the young players try to find their footing in NCAA Division I basketball. Junior transfer forward Axelle Bernard has averaged eight points this season after transferring from Seward Community College. She and fellow transfer junior Chanel Khammarath have proven to be the most dangerous outside threats for the Miners, with six points each from deep this season.

The Mustangs come to El Paso with a hot shooting senior guard and a very experienced roster. Jordan Gutierrez is averaging 20.5 points per game this season by helping the Mustangs to easy wins over Oklahoma Panhandle State and Rogers State. Gutierrez is shooting over 50 percent from the 3-point range, going 7-13 from deep while playing in the New Mexico Highlands Conference Challenge in Las Vegas to start the season.

The Mustangs will also be bringing two El Pasoans home when they come to town on Thursday, Nov. 17, in sophomore guard Lucy Benning (El Paso High School) and junior forward Carlie Akina (Franklin High School). Neither player has logged any points this season.

UTEP will once again look to utilize a size advantage over a lower division team, which to this point has been somewhat under utilized. Despite outrebounding opponents 89-86 so far this season, the height disparity between the Miners and the opponents that they have faced would lead one to think that the rebound margin should be even greater in favor of the Miners.

Perhaps as the rebounding margin expands and as the young team begins to gel even more, the scoring margin will begin to tilt in the Miners’ favor. A tough trip to the Virgin Islands is on the horizon and it will take Adams’ many years of experience to make sure that the Miners do not overlook a high-powered Western New Mexico team.

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Women’s basketball still looking for first win