Miners defang Wildcats, improve to 7-1


Michael Cuviello/ The Prospector Freshman guard Katia Gallegos shoots over Weber State defender Dec. 5.

Michael Cuviello, Sports Editor

Overcoming a sloppy first half with poor shooting from the floor and foul line, the UTEP Miners took control in the second half with strong defense and a career-best performance from Senior Jade Rochelle to beat Weber State 70-51. 

Through the first six minutes of the first quarter, the Miners had only 5 points, with 11 different players seeing the floor. The Miners were 2-9 shooting and missed all their free throws to this point. Finally, at the 3:10 mark, senior forward, Ariana Gill scored to give the Miners its first lead at 7-6. A mistake-filled quarter from both teams had the Miners with a slim 11-10 first-quarter lead.  Ending the first quarter shooting 4 of 17 from the field, 1-8 from three-pointers and 2-8 on free throws the offense was struggling for UTEP. 

Early in the second quarter, Weber state hit backtoback threes to take the lead at 18-13. Through 14 minutes of play the Miners were 5-24 from the field. Then entered little-used reserve Rochelle who helped stage a Miners’ comeback. Rochelle’s offensive rebound followed with a strong put back gave the Miners a 19-18 lead and marked the last time the Miners trailed in the contest. Two free throws from senior guard Katarina Zec closed out the first-half scoring with the Miners leading 29-22. By the end of the first quarter, The Miners had played its entire active roster. Gill’s return to the lineup from injury invigorated the rebounding of the Miners with a 24-21 halftime advantage. The contribution of eight rebounds, including four offensives in 13 minutes of play by Gill keeping the Miners on the offensive. 

Taking control of the game in the third period, Katerina Zec scored 9 points in the quarter along with 5 from Rochelle. Rochelle’s energy and defense lifted the Miners through a shooting drought. Miners lead 52-38 at the end of the third quarter with two key put backs by Rochelle from offensive rebounds. 

Weber State could get no closer than 11 points the rest of the game. As a team Weber State shot 35 percent from the field and committed 30 personal fouls, which gave the Miners a distinct advantage of 16 more free throw attempts. The Miners took a total of 39 free throws and 61 total shots from the field. 

Freshman point guard Katia Gallegos contributed 12 points, five assists, and two steals before fouling out with almost two minutes remaining. Fellow freshman starter Avery Crouse fouled out with seven minutes left in the game, limiting her with only 16 minutes of playing time. 

Rochelle finished the game with 15 points on 6-10 shooting to go along with four rebounds, including two offensives. Her defense and energy were vital in getting the Miners going tonight and her six steals paced the team. Zec also had 15 points to tie for the lead in points and added two steals. Leading the team in rebounds once again was Gill, who had 14, including six offensives. Gill is currently averaging nine rebounds a game, which is fifth in Conference USA. 

The Miners (7-1) have a monumental task in its next game in defending women’s National Invitational Tournament Champions and currently 20th ranked undefeated Arizona Wildcats (8-0). The Wildcats destroyed a previously ranked University of Texas Longhorns team in Austin by 25 points. Beating every team it has faced so far by double digits, Arizona will be a stern test for the young Miner team. Last year the Miners lost by 22 to Arizona in Tucson with UTEP committing 23 turnovers.   

The Wildcats are led by junior guard Aari McDonald who is averaging 21 points a game while shooting 57 percent from the field. McDonald scored 44 points versus the Longhorns. Sophomore Cate Rease is also a force for Arizona, scoring 13 points on 54 percent shooting and averaging eight rebounds a game.  

“This was not our prettiest or best game we played this year but wins comes in all different shapes and sizes,” Head Coach Kevin Baker said.” We started off the game slow and did not have much energy. We extended our man to man defense to full court at halftime and it worked. There is an attitude and a positivity about this team that just won’t quit.”

“Nobody works harder in practice than Jade Rochelle, she just plays so hard,” Baker said.

I just wanted to play defense hard and that where I got my energy tonight, like my coach says I work really hard,” Rochelle said.” When I got in and got the steal it really boosted my confidence.”

“She works hard in practice and pushes us hard every day,” Gill said.

“Gill and Rochelle are very instinctive on the offensive boards,” Baker said. “We were struggling to score and her offensive rebounds gave us a lift.”

It is a chance for students and fans to come out and see the Miners take on one of the best teams in the country and see how the team measures up. The Miners take on Arizona 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7, at the Don Haskins Center. The first 600 fans will receive a special UTEP T-shirt. 

Michael Cuviello can be reached at [email protected].