UTEP women’s basketball defeats Southern Miss 80-72 on “Senior Day.”


Courtesy of Isaac Uribe

Freshman point guard Katia Gallegos shoots the ball through three Southern Miss defenders Saturday Feb. 29.

Isaiah Ramirez, Reporter

In the final game at the Don Haskins Center of the 2019-2020 UTEP women’s basketball season, the bittersweet feeling of watching several Miners grace the hardwood for the last time encompassed the building. Four Miner seniors experienced their last home victory in an 80-72 win over the Southern Mississippi (Southern Miss) Golden Eagles. 

Forwards Jade Rochelle, Ariona Gill, and guards Katarina Zec and Neidy Ocuane all were honored on “senior day” for their contributions to the Miners 

Although four talented and dedicated players to the program are departing, the future of the Miners is in good hands and that was evident against the Golden Eagles with the exceptional performances by its freshman guards Ariana Khlopkova, Avery Crouse and Katia Gallegos. Khlopkova and Crouse combined for 35 points with 14 and 21 respectively while Gallegos dished out a career high 12 assists, one shy of tying the program record for most assists in a game, set by former Miner Jareica Hughes Jan. 5, 2010, versus Southern Methodist University. 

Gallegos needs four assists to break former Miner Shalana Taylor’s freshman record (142 assists 2004-2005) for most assists in a season.  

“When a team like our team shoots the ball the way we do, I can’t hesitate but to pass them the ball if they’re wide-open,” Gallegos said.  

“All four seniors are outstanding, and I couldn’t have asked for a better senior class my freshman year,” Crouse said. 

The Miners displayed its talents from downtown going 8-of-19 from three and provided pressure on the defensive side of the ball, forcing 23 Southern Miss turnovers.  

Southern Miss battled and won buckets inside the paint outscoring the Miners 46-34 for the game and were led by freshman guard Liz Gibbs with 21 points and senior forward Respect Leaphart’s 17 points. 

“Hats off to Southern Miss, they played a really good ballgame.” Head Coach Kevin Baker said. That was a terrific college basketball game today.” 

Katarina Zec put up 17 points in her final game at the Don and shot 75% from downtown (3-for-4) and now sits at eighth all-time in career points in program history with 1,092. 

I thought our seniors played well and did what they needed to do to send themselves out the right way and this team is a great team and a special team,” Baker said. 

Things turned a bit troubling for UTEP in the fourth with Southern Miss taking its first lead of the game (57-56) since the first half with a 3-pointer by redshirt sophomore Imani Carter. 

The Miners bounced back and went on a 7-0 run en route to halting the Golden Eagles and earning its eighth victory in Conference-USA and sits in seventh place in Conference. 

UTEP’s average of 71 points per game and 40 rebounds is third best in Conference-USA and momentum is brewing at the right time for the Miners with two regular season games remaining in the season.  

“At the end of the day I know in my heart that UTEP basketball is in great shape and we’re not going anywhere anytime soon,” Baker said.  

UTEP will make its final road trip of the regular season as it takes on Rice and North Texas. Rice is tied for first in Conference-USA and was given a true battle by the Miners narrowly besting UTEP (69-61), while North Texas has struggled this season and were defeated by the Miners earlier this season (67-63). 

Isaiah Ramirez may be reached at [email protected]