Miners extend win streak to six games with win over Blazers


Courtesy of UTEP/ Ruben Ramirez

UTEP sophomore point guard Katia Gallegos dribbles the ball into the paint versus Southern Mississippi Jan. 1.

The UTEP Miners (12-5, 8-3) women’s basketball team dominated the University of Alabama at Birmingham Blazers (7-8,2-7) 74-53 in the first game of a back-to-back series Friday night.

Starting out a bit shaky, the Miners had three straight turnovers leading to a 5-point deficit while UTEP was held scoreless over the first two minutes of the game. Freshman forward Erina Arike scored the Miners’ first points inside, setting the tone that UTEP was not afraid to take it to the basket.

Sophomore point guard Katia Gallegos then answered with a 3-point shot to tie the game 5-5; Gallegos then made a shrewd defensive play getting the steal, then dishing an assist for Alike to score again in the paint to put the Miners up for the first time on a 7-point run.

With the score tied at 9-9, senior Michelle Pruitt scored the next 7 points for the Miners, putting UTEP ahead 16-13. Sophomore Avery Crouse added a basket with one minute left in the first quarter to extend the Miner lead to 5 points. UTEP finished the first quarter leading 20-17 after UAB’s Zakyia Weathersby hook shot fell. Arike and Pruitt combined for 13 points in the quarter.

For the first two minutes of the second period, neither team could score until Arike took an assist from Gallegos to extend the Miner lead to 22-17. With about five minutes left in the second period, junior Margaret Whitley of UAB started to heat up from the floor. After only hitting one of her first nine shots, Whitley hit a contested 3-pointer, which brought the Blazers to within 1 point of the Miners. Whitley then went on to score 8 points within a two-minute time frame giving the Blazers a short-lived 28-26 lead.

At the 1:49 mark, Whitely scored again from just outside the paint to give the Blazers a 3-point lead. Freshman Brenda Fontana then scored for the Miners in the paint, followed by a steal from sophomore guard Isis Lopes that she took for a score, giving the Miners back the lead by a point. The Miners ended the half with a 34-33 lead.

“Elina(Arike) set the tempo for us at the beginning of the game,” UTEP coach Kevin Baker said. “She played well inside, she put a lot of pressure on them. I thought that was the difference in the game early, I really did. That caused them some problems, caused them some foul trouble because of our interior”

For the quarter, Whitley had 11 points for UAB and Arike continued her strong inside play adding another 6 points. Overall, whitely led all scorers with 13 and Alike had 12. The Miners were shooting 53% for the half and held the Blazers to a respectable 43%. UAB, the conference’s best rebounding team, had a slight 17-15 board advantage.

In the third quarter, the Miners defense clamped down on the Blazers, shutting UAB out for the first eight minutes of the half. During this period, the Miners were able to force five turnovers and nine consecutive missed shots from the Blazers as UTEP pulled out to a 47-33 lead. Whitley then would go on to hit a 3-pointer to end the scoreless third quarter for the Blazers and would go on to add another basket before the end of the third period. Whitley’s 5 points were the only points the Blazers scored in the period as the team went 2-11. UTEP led at the end of three quarters 47-38

Opening the fourth quarter, senior Danielle Roebuck hit a jumper right outside of the paint and Gallegos followed up with a 3-pointer to extend the Miner lead to 52-38. From this point on, the Miners would continue to build its lead into the double digits and never look back. Gallegos found her outside shooting stoke and hit all three of her 3-pointers, scoring 9 points in the quarter, leading the Miners to a dominating 74-53 victory.

“Late in the game we heated up outside and made some shots. I was proud of our rebounding effort,” Baker said. “Other than the first minute and a half of the game that was our most complete game of the season.”

Whitley of UAB led all scorers with 20 points, which is slightly below her season average of 22 per game. Defensively UTEP stymied her outside shooting, holding her to 2-10 from beyond the arc.

Gallegos led all Miners with 16 points on 6-9 shooting from the field and 4-6 from the 3-point line to go along with five rebounds and five assists. Arike, who was a key early on with her inside play, had her second double-digit scoring game with 14 points on 7-10 shooting. Crouse added 11 points and four rebounds. Roebuck led the Miners in rebounds with 6.

“It feels great to see I can play against good players,” Arike said. “That’s definitely a positive.” Arike also said that she is starting to feel more comfortable as the season goes on, and is much more confident in her game.

“We came out of the locker room with a lot of intensity,” Gallegos said. ” We’re a good defensive team when we want to be and that’s where we had to rise to the occasion. We all played good defense, one through five.”

As a team, the Miners shot 53% from the field on  39-54 shooting and shot 46% on 7-15 shooting from the 3-point line. Defensively the Miners held UAB to 5-of-27 from the 3-point line for an 18% shooting percentage. The Miners outrebounded the best rebounding team in C-USA 33-27

Both teams are on streaks going in opposite directions. The Miners have a six-game win streak and the Blazers have five-game losing streak.

The Miners (12-5,8-3) play the second game of the back-to-back against the Blazers (7-9,2-7) 4.pm. Saturday, Feb. 6. at the Don Haskins Center.

Michael Cuviello and Danny Lopez may be reached at [email protected]