The UTEP women’s basketball team is an exciting team to watch during this 2019-2020 season with its quick-paced gameplay, constant defensive pressure, and solid passing. Last season the team was plagued with injuries leaving a depleted roster. Still, it did show fight and tenacity, resulting in a win against Marshall University in the opening round of the Conference-USA tournament.
Fast forward a season later and the team is tied for second place in Conference-USA at 4-1 with Old Dominion and faces a tough task this week in the form of first place Rice (11-6, 6-0).
“We all know Rice coming in Thursday is going to be a great game but the way that we are playing right now, we’re just really going to be tough to beat,” head coach Kevin Baker said.
The Miners have been setting records this season in the year of the Baker Era. This past weekend the Miners defeated UTSA 94-54 and scored 32 points in the second quarter, which marked the most in a quarter against a league foe in school history. The team has scored 80 plus points in a program-record four straight contests.
The success of the team has indeed been a team effort with just one player averaging double-digit scoring in senior guard Katarina Zec at 13.3 points per game. Zec has been a steady leader for the Miners with 13 double-digit scoring affairs and leads the team from three-point land at 39 percent.
Zec isn’t the only significant contributor to the high-powered offense of the Miners. The solid trio of freshman guards Katia Gallegos, Arina Khlopkova, and Avery Crouse are chipping in buckets averaging 9.9, 5.8, and 5.9 points per game, respectively. Gallegos is a steady floor general at the point guard position for the Miners dictating the offense and dishing an average of five assists per contest, which is a league-best.
Including the freshman guard trio and Zec, the Miners have seven players averaging five points per game, which involve senior forward Ariona Gill, sophomore forward Ariana Taylor, and junior forward Michelle Pruitt.
“Everyone on this team has talent and everyone comes out and plays their heart out and I think that’s a very big part of our success,” Gallegos said.
UTEP’s offense is the second-best scoring offense in Conference-USA with the team averaging 71.9 points per game, and third-best in field goal percentage at 42 percent.
With the win against UTSA, the Miners have scored 90 plus points without having an individual player score more than 15 points for the second time in two weeks. UTEP accomplished this very rare feat in its 96-65 win against Florida Atlantic on Jan. 4. This event had never occurred in program history before this season.
Now the Miners face a battle against the Rice Owls, a squad that is the defending Conference-USA regular season and tournament champions.
The Owls are a team that values defense with what it has shown this season as they place second in Conference-USA in field goal percentage defense at 34 percent and third in three-point field goal percentage defense at 23 percent.
Rice is led by senior guard and the 2018-2019 Conference-USA player of the year Erica Ogwumike. Ogwumike is averaging 16.4 points per game, which is fourth-best in Conference-USA.
UTEP is currently on a three-game homestand and takes on Rice at 7 p.m. Jan. 23 at the Don Haskins Center.
Tickets are five dollars for adults and three dollars for kids and may be purchased by calling (915) 747-5234.
Isaiah Ramirez may be reached at [email protected]