UTEP battles back to defeat North Texas 67-63 and now heads on two-game road trip

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Daniel Rey Perez

UTEP senior forward Jade Rochelle makes a move to basket versus North Texas at the Don Haskins Center.

Isaiah Ramirez, Staff Reporter

In a game in which the UTEP Miners (12-6, 5-2) were trailing for a large amount of time it battled back to defeat the North Texas Mean Green (9-11, 3-5) 67-63 and improve to 5-2 in Conference-USA. The only lead the Miners had up until 11 seconds in the game was a 4-3 in the first quarter and from that point on it had to fight against a scrappy and defensive-minded North Texas squad.  

Senior forward Ariona Gill made a clutch and-one basket with 11 seconds remaining to put the Miners up. Senior guard Katarina Zec sealed the win knocking down a free throw with three seconds left in the game. 

Senior leadership was evident in this game with Gillforward Jade Rochelle, and Zec each playing an integrate role in the Miners win.  

Zec scored 18 points with each one coming in the second half, Gill nearly tailed a double-double with eight points and 11 rebounds, and Rochelle tacked in 8 points and a much-needed basket for the Miners with 2:16 remaining in the game.  

“I think we had to lead this team no matter what happens, and I believed we were going to win the whole 40 minutes and I didn’t doubt it and we took the win,” Zec said. 

“It’s hard to win games when you’re just not making shots and you’re just not in a rhythm, but this team led by our three seniors figured out a way to win the game,” head coach Kevin Baker said. 

UTEP got off to a rough start only scoring seven points in the first quarter and shooting 14 percent from the field. 

“ We played an emotional game on Thursday and a game that we really wanted to win and that sort of deflated us a little bit emotionally and I think it carried over into the first quarter in this game and that’s unfortunate,” head coach Kevin Baker said. 

The Miners were coming off a tough 69-61 loss to first place and undefeated in conference-play Rice Thursday at home. 

A trademark of this young squad has been defensive pressure and that continued Saturday with the Miners forcing 23 turnoversThe Miners turnover margin of plus 2.7 is second best in Conference-USA 

The Mean Green led the Miners for 32 minutes and had four players score in double figures led by junior guard Summer Jones with 17 points. North Texas finished the game with 33 bench points to the Miners 10.  

I thought North Texas shot the ball particularly well and they don’t normally shoot it that well, but I think they elevated their game today against us and I was impressed about how they played,” Baker said. 

UTEP was led by Zec’s 18 points and sophomore forward Ariana Taylor’s 12 points.  

The Miners next task at hand is a competitive two-game road trip first against the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (13-7, 5-3) and then the University of Alabama at Birmingham Blazers (13-7, 5-3) 

The Blazers and Blue Raiders are currently the fourth and fifth place teams in Conference-USA. 

Middle Tennesse is led by redshirt sophomore guard Anastasia Hayes who averages 17.2 points per game which is third best in Conference-USA. 

“Conference-USA is tough and every game from this point forward is going to be like the game we just played and there’s no easy games ahead and our Conference is really good this year and we want it that way,” Baker said. 

UTEP battles Middle Tennesse at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 30 in Murfreesboro Tenn. After that matchup the Miners will travel to take on UAB at 1 p.m. Feb.1 in Birmingham Ala.