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Miners take on first-place Rice in pivotal conference matchup

Carolina Alvarez
UTEP freshman guard Katia Gallegos leads Conference-USA in assists per game with five.

 In what looks to the be one of the most highly anticipated games in recent memory for the UTEP women’s basketball team (11-5, 4-1) it faces a tough test in the first-place Rice Owls (11-6, 6-0).  

Coming off a 94-54 rout of the University of Texas at San Antonio Saturday at the Don Haskins Center and defeating its last three out of four opponents by 15 points or more, the Miners are playing its best basketball at the most critical time. 

“Our team’s coming off a really solid win on Saturday. I thought our team played really well and its really great to see them play that well on Saturday because we went through a whole week of preparation where we worked hard,” UTEP Head Coach Kevin Baker said during his weekly media press conference.  

“I’m just excited that we’re playing really relevant basketball and basketball that matters and believe it or not that was actually one of our goals this year is that we wanted to play meaningful games in January and February,” Baker said.  

The Miners are currently tied with Old Dominion for second place in Conference-USA and have already bested its win total from last season. Rice is a team that has won 25 straight Conference-USA contests and is the defending regular season and tournament champions 

Rice is led by strong one-two punch in senior guard Erica Ogwumike and junior center Nancy Mulkey. Both are the team leaders in scoring, with Ogwumike leading the team with 16.4 points per game, and Mulkey with 10.5 points per game. 

Ogwumike comes from a basketball tree that has talented roots with her sisters Chiney and Nneka both playing in the Women’s National Basketball Association and drafted first overall in their respective draft classes.  

The 5-foot-9-inch guard is the reigning Conference-USA player of the year and female athlete of the year.  

Mulkey the 6-foot-9 inch physically imposing center led the National Collegiate Athletic Association in blocked shots per game (3.6) and was the 2018-2019 Conference-USA defensive player of the year, and the 2018-2019 Conference-USA tournament Most Valuable Player. 

 “I told our team that she’s 7-foot-4 that way when she shows up on Thursday, they’re going to say you know she’s not that big, so we’ve been playing a little mind game with team,” Baker jokingly said.  

“She can be the difference in a game because of her shot-blocking ability and her ability to change shots I mean anything in the paint she changes shots and she’s really good at it,” Baker said.  

Even though on most nights the Miners tallest player in the starting lineup is 6’ 1”, the team has outrebounded its last three opponents. Against UTSA the Miners outrebounded the Roadrunners 53-34.  

On the season UTEP is averaging 41.1 rebounds per game while its opponents are averaging 35.4 rebounds per game. The Miners plus 5.7 rebounding margin ranks first in Conference-USA.  

The Miners are led in boards by senior forward Ariona Gill with 8.2 rebounds per game. 

“There’s an old saying in coaching that said you get what you emphasize so all June July, August, September all we have been emphasizing is rebounding, and I think our team has gotten that message,” Baker said. “We are always going to be a little undersized, so we have to have the ability to go and get the basketball when we need to, and I’ve been really pleased with the rebounding.” 

UTEP has lost its last three matchups against Rice and its looking to conquer the big challenge coming in this Thursday at the Don Haskins Center.  

“We aspire to win the Conference and the only way you win the conference you’ve got to beat the team on top and Rice is the team on top right now and we would certainly like to give them a great run for their money on Thursday,” Baker said. 

UTEP takes on the first-place Rice Owls at 7 p.m. Jan. 23 at the Don Haskins Center. 

Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for kids and may be purchased by calling (915) 747-5234. 




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About the Contributors
Isaiah Ramirez is a senior multimedia journalism major at the University of Texas at El Paso. Isaiah has worked for the university’s paper The Prospector since Spring 2018 and has held the position as a sports editor and is currently a reporter at the publication. During the fall semesters he also works as an on-air reporter for Football Friday Nights a weekly radio show showcasing local football games broadcasted by 600 ESPN El Paso. He covers local news as well as local and UTEP sporting events such as football, men’s and women’s basketball, and has covered the annual Hyundai Sun Bowl game and two-time NBA champion Danny Green’s basketball camp here in the Sun City.
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Miners take on first-place Rice in pivotal conference matchup