UTEP women extend win streak to 9

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Courtesy of UTEP

UTEP senior center Michelle Pruitt drives hard to the basket versus UAB Feb. 5.

Michael Cuviello, Sports Editor

The UTEP Miners (14-5,11-3) swept the Florida International University (FIU) Panthers (9-9,  in both of its games on the road in Miami, Florida, this weekend. On Friday night, the Miners took control late in the third quarter and never let up as UTEP won 76-64. Then the following night, UTEP took command of the game just before halftime in a comfortable 73-57 victory. 

With the two victories, the Miners have now won nine straight games, the most since the 2015-2016 Miners that made the National Invitational Tournament going 29-5. Head Coach Kevin Baker marked another milestone for his career with his 400th victory as a coach. 

“It’s hard to win in college basketball. To win nine straight is incredible, Baker said. 

On Friday, the Miners and Panthers were engaged in a fairly tight game in the early going but UTEP started off the second quarter with a smothering defense that did not allow a field goal for the first two and half minutes. For the period, the Miners only allowed 10 points total and went into the half with a 37-31 lead. 

Late in the third quarter of the game, the Miners led 51-47 and once again shut down the Panthers for the final three minutes of the quarter as UTEP scored the last 7 points of the quarter. UTEP went into the final period with a 58-47 lead. 

The Panthers would get no closer to 8 points in the quarter even with the extraordinary effort from junior guard Jissele Thomas who had 13 points in the quarter. UTEP closed out the game 76-64. 

UTEP shot a red-hot 50% from the field and a red-hot 65% from the 3-point line. The Miners hit on 13-20 shots from the arc. Sophomore guard Isis Lopes led the Miners in scoring with 22 and was 6-8 from the 3 point line. Destiny Thurman and Avery Crouse both had 13 points apiece, while Alina Erike had 10 points and led the team in rebounding with five, along with Michelle Pruitt. Sophomore point guard Katia Gallegos had a quiet scoring night and had seven turnovers. 

For the Panthers, it was a onewoman show, with Thomas scoring 27 points on 10 of 15 shooting. Thomas also pulled down eight rebounds. Both teams had turnovers issues but the Panthers won that dubious award with 21 compared to the Miners 17. Both teams ended up with 32 rebounds. 

In game two of the Conference-USA matchup, the Panther started strong, shooting 66% from the field in the first quarter, while the Miners kept pace, shooting just over 54%. Sophomore guard Fujita Nimmo paced the Panthers by hitting a 3-pointer on three straight trips down the court as she ended the quarter with 12 points giving FIU a 22-18 first quarter lead. 

At the fourminute mark of the second quarter, the Miners trailed by 5 points. The Miners then completely shut down the Panther offense, not allowing another score for the rest of the period. It would become the Gallegos and Bradshaw show for the remainder of the scoring in the quarter as both players would score 4 points apiece to give the Miners the halftime lead 42-39. 

The Miners continued its aggressive defense in the third quarter, only allowing 7 points to be scored on 2 of 12 shooting. After three quarters, the Miners led 57-46. UTEP continued its dominance of the game in the final quarter, stretching the lead to 21 at one point and ended up winning 73-47. 

“Our defense was incredible to hold them to seven points in the third quarter, and about the same in the fourth quarter until they got a few late,” Baker said. “Our defense was really, really good and we executed down the stretch to pull away late. 

Senior Michelle Pruitt led four Miners in double figures with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Gallegos had 17 points, seven assists and five rebounds. Senior Dejanae Roebuck had 14 points with three steals and Thurman had 11 points. 

The Miners shot 50% from the field for the game and an even better 54% from the 3-point lineDefensively the Miners only allowed six field goals in the second half to the Panthers and forced 20 turnovers while only making 10. For the season, the Miners have been strong on the boards and over the last nine games, have not been outrebounded by an opponent. 

“You’re always concerned when you go on the road, how tough you have to be mentally, Baker said. The scoreboard looks like it was an easy win, but this was a tough one. I’m proud of our team and they showed their toughness. 

The Panthers had three players in double figures, led by Nimmo with 16. After her hot start in the game, the Miners held her to 3 points the rest of the way. Nimmo also got into foul trouble in the game. 

Returning home this week, the Miners host the Florida Atlantic Owls(6-8, 4-6) 7 p.m. March 19  and 2 p.m. March 20 at the Don Haskins Center. 

Michael Cuviello may be reached at [email protected]