Miners close out strong regular season

UTEP+sophomore+transfer+guard+Destiny+Lopes+lines+up+for+a+jump+shot+against+Florida+Atlantic+Feb.+22.

Courtesy of UTEP

UTEP sophomore transfer guard Destiny Lopes lines up for a jump shot against Florida Atlantic Feb. 22.

Michael Cuviello, Sports Editor

The UTEP Miner (16-7, 13-5) women’s basketball came back from 8 points down in the final quarter to get a 71-68 must-win conference game over the  Charlotte 49ers (9-8, 8-4) on the road  Saturday.  

After not being able to overcome a 40-22 halftime deficit Friday in a 62-53 loss Friday, the Miners bounced back to split the away series with a great fourth quarter effort in the second game of a weekend doubleheader. 

We didn’t play very well (Friday); all we wanted was the opportunity to play back-to-back,” Head Coach Kevin Baker said. “We looked at the film, but the biggest thing we needed to correct was our mentality. We had to be a little more focused, a little more determined, a little more stubborn. 

“All those things make you say this was a character game and that’s what it was.” 

The Miners survived a hot shooting 63% shooting quarter from the 49ers with smothering defense down the stretch, not allowing a field goal in the final four minutes of the quarter as UTEP clung to a 17-16 lead. 

Senior Michelle Pruit got hot in the second, scoring six points in the first three minutes of the quarter as the Miners jumped out to a 10 point lead.  After three more minutes passed, the Miners were still hanging onto a 9 point lead after a layup from freshman Elena Arike. 

Hitting her second 3-pointer within a two-minute stretch, Charlotte guard Mariah Linney narrowed the Miner lead to three points at 33-30. A layup by teammate Octavia Jett Wilson as well as block helped the 49ers close out the half, only trailing by a single point. 

At halftime, both teams were shooting well over 50% from the field. 

Linney hit a  3-pointer following a Jett -Wilson layup that gave the 49ers a 39-35 lead with 7:31 remaining in the third quarter. With four minutes remaining, Jett Wilson hit a 3-pointer to provide Charlotte with its largest lead of 7 points. 

Junior Destiny Thurman hit a clutch 3-pointer with three seconds left in the quarter to close the gap with the 49ers to 53-49. 

Charlotte started out strong in the fourth period jumping out to a 59-51 lead with 7:30 remaining in the game. 

A minute later, sophomore guard Isis Lopes hit a 3-pointer that started a 14 point Miner run as the team’s defense shut down the 49ers for the next three minutes of gameplay. Lopes herself accounted for 8 of the 14 points of the run as the Miners now led 65-59 with three and half minutes left in the game. 

With a minute and 24 seconds left in the game, the Miners led 68-63 after Pruitt’s free throwJett Wilson’s jumper cut the Miner lead back to 3 points with just over a minute left in the game. 

Leading again by five, Linney 3-pointer once again victimized the Miners with 12 seconds left on the clock. The Miners forced the 49ers to foul as sophomore Katia Gallegos closed out the game with a free throw for a 71-68 UTEP win. 

Lopes’s 12 points in the quarter were vital for the Miners as she led UTEP with 19 points on 7 for 11 shooting from the field.  Lopes hit 3 of 5, 3-pointers. 

That was (Lopes‘) best game as a Miner,” Baker said. “She scoredshe hit big shotsbut the biggest thing was she defended really well. “

“That was the complete game we’ve been looking for.”  

Thurman had a strong game also with 15 points on 6 of 11 shooting, including two 3-pointers. Pruitt finished out another doubledigit game with 13 points. In five of Pruitt’s last seven games, she has scored in double figures. 

Linney and Jett Wilson gave the Miners issues all night as they scored 24 and 23 points respectively on the night. Linney hit five 3-pointers on the night and Jett-Wilson had four blocks. 

Charlotte outshot the Miners 53% to 45% but 15 turnovers and too many secondchance points for the Miners sealed the setback. 

“I thought we defended well all game; we made them hit some tough shots,” Baker said. “We held them to 47 shots; they are a team that’s been scoring from 75 to 80 points each nightWe defended them well.” 

The Miners await the Rice/ North Texas matchup results this coming week to see where the team’s seeding is confirmed to be. If North Texas does not sweep Rice, then UTEP gains the No. 2 seed in the West Division, which earns the team a bye in the conference tournament. The Miners had its best record since the 2015-16 National Invitational Tournament quarterfinalist team that finished 29-5. 

UTEPs next game will be at the Conference USA tournament starting March 10 in Frisco, Texas. 

Michael Cuviello may be reached at [email protected]