UTEP hosts UAB with a five-game win streak on the line

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courtesy of UTEP

Junior UTEP guard Sabine Lipe works past defender against UTSA Jan. 30.

Michael Cuviello, Sports Editor

In a matchup of two teams moving in opposite directions, the UTEP Miners (10-5, 7-3) take on the University of Alabama at Birmingham(UAB) Blazers (7-7, 2-6) for a two-game home series starting Friday at 7 p.m.

UAB has lost four games in a row coming into tonight’s game after being swept at home by Charlotte and on the road against Middle Tennessee State last weekend.

The Blazers’ junior guard Margert Whitley is the second leading scorer in Conference USA (C-USA) with 22 points a game. After averaging only 4 points a game in limited time as a sophomore. Whitley leads the conference in free throw percentage with 89% and in 3-pointers made per game with 3.3 while shooting a dangerous 37% from that range. She has scored in double figures every game this season.

Senior Zakyia Weathersby is a force all over the floor with her all-around play. Weathersby averages 14.5 points a game while leading the conference in rebounding with 12.5 per game. Also, she is one of the top shot blockers in the league with 2.1 per game.

The key to controlling the game against UAB will to make it hard for these players to get their shots off and fighting on the boards with the size disadvantage against the conference’s premier big. UAB uses its bench extensively with a rotation of at least eight players playing significant minutes.

UAB is the best rebounding team in the conference averaging 45 a game, while the Miners have only allowed teams to average 33 per game. This game will be a massive challenge for the Miners on the boards but the team has faced  Rice and North Texas, both good rebounding teams.

Over its winning streak, the Miners shooting has come alive and is now the third-best shooting team in the conference. Juniors Sabine Lipe and Destiny Thurman have come alive lately and have the Miners looking much more dangerous from the arc. Lipe had 14 points in the last game and Thurman had back-to-back double-digit games before the Miner’s previous victory.

Sophomore point guard Katia Gallegos leads the team in scoring with 14.9  points per game and is third in the conference in assists with 4.8 per game. Gallegos hard-nosed defense has her with 1.9 steals a game but she has lost focus at times on the defensive side.

Sophomore Avery Crouse has also played much better as of late, with more aggression on the offensive side with back-to-back 17-point games. Crouse works the glass hard and plays good defense as the second-best rebounder on the team

Senior Michelle Pruitt has averaged eight rebounds a game over the past four matchups and over 6 per game for the season. Pruitt will have her most significant challenge of the season with Weathersby’s size advantage. Offensively Pruitt has gotten more consistent as the season has gone on and averages 8.5 a game.

Sophomore guard Isis Lopes and senior Dejanae Roebuck will be key players as the Miner’s best 3-point shooters. Lopes leads the team with 36% and Roebuck is shooting a solid 35%. Both players are averaging over 20 minutes a game.

The key for the Miners tonight will be aggressive rebounding and making open shots. Defensively the Miners will have to find a way to stop the Blazers guard-big combo. The rebound battle will probably decide the matchup because UTEP is the superior shooting team.

UTEP plays UAB Friday  7 p.m. and Saturday 4 p.m. at the Don Haskins Center in El Paso.

Michael Cuviello may be reached at [email protected]