Women’s basketball season features a new era

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Sergio Muñoz

The Miners tip-off the 2017-18 season against CSU-Bakserfield this Saturday afternoon at the Don Haskins Center.

Daniel Mendez, Staff Reporter

Last season not only marked the end of coach Keitha Adams’ tenure with the UTEP women’s basketball program, but it also came with the graduation of 571 point-scorer and team leader Sparkle Taylor.

Adams’ last season with the Miners before accepting the head coaching gig at Wichita State saw the team finish 8-23 while going 5-11 in conference play. Taylor was the Miners’ only senior last season and her 18 points per game ranked fourth in C-USA during the 2016-17 campaign.

This season is different. The Miners will have a new coach gracing the hardwood this season along with another lone senior—Kevin Baker and Tamara Seda.

Baker became the eighth head coach in the program on April 24, 2017. Baker came from Angelo State University, where he posted a 50-14 record in two seasons at the university. Before Angelo State, Baker coached at the University of Texas-Tyler from 2012-15, where he was 72-16. Bringing his combined college record to 122-30.

The Miners return eight players from last season’s squad. Seda led the team in scoring with 9.6 points per game with an average of nine rebounds a game, also a team best last season.

Returning Miners include junior guard and forward Najala Howell, sophomore forward Jakeira Ford, senior forward Seda, sophomore guard Katrina Zec, sophomore guard Faith Cook, sophomore guard Rachel Tapps, sophomore guard Roeshonda Patterson and sophomore forward Zuzanna Puc.

One of the new faces, freshman guard Jordan Jenkins, will look to have an impact in the offense. Jenkins has started at the guard position for the Miners in their exhibition games. Jenkins was a three-time district MVP and defensive player of the year, helping Buffalo High School (Buffalo, Texas) earn runner-up honors in the 2017 Texas UIL 3A playoffs.

Junior guard and forward Jordan Alexander, junior forward Arizona Gill, junior guard Neidy Ocuane and Jenkins are the newest Miners. Gill and Ocuane are slated to be red-shirted this year.

“A lot of kids early in the season don’t know each other very well and they will walk away from a tough situation,” Baker said after his team’s recent exhibition loss against St. Mary’s University. “And our kids today fought back a little bit.  Which is a testament to their great character. I was really impressed with that.”

The Miners will have a total of 14 home games this season. The season opener at the Don Haskins Center this Saturday, Nov. 11, will be against CSU Bakersfield, with the regular season concluding at home against conference foe Western Kentucky on March 3, 2018.

The Miners will be tested early as they face Arkansas from the SEC in the opener of the sixth-annual Thanksgiving Classic at the Don Haskins Center on Nov. 25. The Miners will then face Texas Southern the following day on Nov. 26, in the second and final game of the classic.

On Nov. 30, the team will face rival New Mexico State at the Don Haskins, and on Dec. 10, the Miners will continue the Battle of I-10 rivalry series when they travel to face the New Mexico State Aggies in Las Cruces.

The Miners will open up Conference USA play on the road as they face Florida International on Jan. 5, 2018, with the conference home opener coming against Charlotte at noon on Jan. 11, 2018.

The C-USA championship tournament will begin on March 7, 2018, with championship action concluding on March 10, 2018 at The Star in Frisco, Texas.

The biggest hurdle for the Miners this season will be how long it will take for the team to figure out the defensive scheme Coach Baker is deploying out on the court.

“We are focusing on a new defensive scheme that will help us get the stops we need,” Alexander said. “Defensively, we need to work on our defense and rotations.”

The Miners will have their hands full as they face two preseason All-WAC team senior Jazmyne Bartee and senior Aja Williams for their season opener this Saturday afternoon against Cal State-Bakersfield at the Don Haskins Center.

Williams as a junior averaged 11 points, four rebounds and scored 35 points against the University of California, Berkeley, last season in the 86-63 loss. She tied the Cal-State Bakersfield school record for the most 3-point field goals in a game with nine against the Golden Bears. The 5-foot-10 forward will look to continue her shooting streak this season.

Bartee was named second-team All-Conference and was selected to the WAC’s All-Defensive Team last year. The 6-foot-2 Bartee broke the school record for most blocks in a season with 74 in 2016-17, and will look to bring her defensive attitude as her team preps for UTEP.

Tip-off against the Roadrunners is scheduled for 1 p.m.

Follow Daniel Mendez on Twitter @dmendez24