UTEP women’s basketball (4-2, 1-0 C-USA) saw all 12 of its players listed in the scoring column in the Miners’ 83-65 victory over Southern Miss (2-1, 0-1 C-USA) to open Conference-USA play Friday afternoon at the Don Haskins Center.
“I’ve said all along we have a really deep team,” UTEP Head Coach Kevin Baker said. “We’ve got players that can play. It doesn’t matter if you start them or don’t start; those things don’t matter. When they are on the floor, they come together very well. I thought our second unit off the bench… played some really good basketball and we needed them to.”
UTEP jumped out to an early 13-point lead in the first period behind its highest-scoring quarter of the season (up to that point) with 25 points. Sophomore guards Avery Crouse and Katia Gallegos were held scoreless due to foul trouble in the first half, but the performances off the Miner bench – in the first quarter and throughout the game – rode UTEP to victory in its fourth consecutive C-USA opener.
The Miners have now won 11 of their last 12 conference openers.
In the absence of Gallegos and Crouse, sophomore guards Arina Khlopkova and Isis Lopes knocked down two 3s and combined for seven points in the first quarter. Senior forward Michelle Pruitt added eight of her nine total points also. With the help of five first steals – two from junior guards Destiny Thurman and Sabine Lipe – the Miners closed the opening frame shooting 56.3 percent and 6-of-8 at the line.
Lopes provided another four points in the second quarter.
“The second game has made me more confident within myself,” Lopes said after two back-to-back 10-point performances.
The Miners headed into the second half with a 37-28 lead but were being outrebounded 10-9 by the Lady Eagles. That changed at halftime as UTEP proceeded to crash the boards 17 times compared to Southern Miss’s five. Six separate Miners ended the game with three or more rebounds.
“When we sat down and guarded and kept (Southern Miss) in front of us a little bit, forced them to play offense a little bit, it helped us rebound,” Baker said.
In addition to rebounding, the Miners assisted on 10 of their 12 scores in the second half.
“That screams team, team, team to me,” Baker said.
After the Lady Eagles got within three points at 48-45 late in the third quarter – the smallest deficit up to that point – Lopes responded with a corner 3.
“(Lopes is) going to have great games,” Baker said. “She’s just now getting her feet wet. … Isis is one of these players, the longer she plays, the better she’s going to play.”
Gallegos and Crouse returned to their familiar selves in the second half. The game was within two points in the Miners’ favor, 51-49, until Gallegos connected for her second make of the game. She scored all six of her points in the third period.
UTEP remained soundly ahead for the rest of the game, largely thanks to Crouse’s scoring outburst in the fourth quarter. Crouse poured in eight straight points in the first five minutes of the final period to push UTEP out to a 65-53 lead and an 8-0 run.
Freshman forward Dagne Apsite put the game away in memorable fashion with back-to-back 3s for her career-high six points.
Just as the Miners started the game with their highest-scoring quarter of the season, they surpassed that with 26 points in the fourth while holding the Lady Eagles to just 12.
Next up, UTEP concludes its season series with Southern Miss tomorrow at 12 p.m. MT in a contest that will be available for streaming on C-USA.TV and listening through 600 ESPN El Paso and the UTEP Miners App.
For complete coverage of UTEP women’s basketball, be sure to follow the Miners on social media at @UTEPWBB (Twitter), @utepwbb (Instagram) and on Facebook or click here to visit the official home of UTEP Athletics.
Gallery by Ruben R. Ramirez – El Paso Herald Post