UAB vs UTEP Women’s Basketball Game , Don Haskins Center, El Paso Texas, January 17, 2019, Andres Acosta | El Paso Herald-Post
Junior Zuzanna Puc notched her fourth double-double (11 points, career-high 13 rebounds) of the year while sophomore Alexa Hoy joined her in double figures (team-high 13 points) but UTEP couldn’t sustain a strong start in a 74-48 setback to preseason league favorite UAB at the Don Haskins Center Thursday evening.
“I’m proud of our team for coming out and playing so well (in the first quarter),” UTEP head coach Kevin Baker said. “We were toe-to-toe with them (14-13), and I couldn’t have been prouder. We could not throw it in there in the second quarter. We played them to one point in the third and six points in the fourth. Our battled and yet again a sophomore led us in scoring. I saw so many positives out there that we can build on. My hat is off to Randy (Norton) and UAB. They’re every good as you need to be to to win the conference.”
The Miners (4-13, 1-3 C-USA) got off to a much-needed good start, leading by seven (11-4) with 3:49 to play in the opening quarter. The Blazers (16-2, 4-1 C-USA) regrouped and struck back in the form of a 34-6 run to suddenly surge out by 21 (38-17) late in the opening half. The home side played hard the rest of the way, but the damage had been done.
UTEP was hindered by an off shooting night, finishing at a season-low 26.6 percent (17-64) from the floor. It was a different story for the Blazers, who connected on 44.8 percent (26-57) of their shots. UAB also was locked in from distance, nailing 13-29 (44.8 percent) from beyond-the-arc.
The Orange and Blue tried to make up for that by taking good care of the ball (12 turnovers), winning the boards (42-38), enjoying a 21-0 margin in second-chance points and a 28-22 differential in points in the paint but it wasn’t enough. Jade Rochelle came off the bench to tally nine points while also grabbing six boards, buoying the efforts of Puc and Hoy.
Rachael Childress (18 points), Lea Kerstein (16 points) and Katelynn Thomas (16 points) led the charge for the visitors while Deanna Kuzmanic added eight points. It marked the 13th consecutive road win in C-USA play for the defending regular-season league champions.
UTEP bucked its recent trend of sluggish starts by jumping out to an 8-2 advantage of the first five minutes of the contest, forcing visiting UAB to call timeout. It was a balanced approach in the stretch for UTEP, with four different Miners scoring. The Blazers got a jumper from Kuzmanic to go out of their timeout, but Hoy countered immediately with a triple off a feed from Rochelle.
The bucket afforded the Orange and Blue a seven-point cushion (11-4) with 3:49 left in the quarter. UAB regrouped, closing the frame on a 10-2 push to grab a one-point edge (14-13) through 10 minutes of action.
Puc split a pair of free throws early on in the second frame, resulting in the first time of the tilt. Much to the chagrin of the Miner faithful, the visitors peeled off the next eight points. Puc made a lay-up to halt the sequence, only to have UAB rip off 11 consecutive points to put the Miners down by 17 (33-16) with 3:03 remaining in the frame.
It was back-and-forth the final three minutes, with UTEP forced to head into the locker room down by 19 (38-19).
The Orange and Blue turned in an extremely competitive second half, with UAB only holding a +7 margin (36-29) over the final 20 minutes of action. Aiding that was holding the Blazers to 33.3 percent (5-15) shooting in the third quarter, including 16.7 percent (1-6) on 3-point tries in that frame.
UTEP wraps up its mini two-game homestand by playing host to Middle Tennessee at 1 p.m. MT Saturday. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for kids, and may be purchased by calling (915) 747-5234. Additionally, all popcorn will be $1 in honor of “National Popcorn Day.”
Photo gallery by Andres ‘Ace’ Acosta, Chief Photographer, El Paso Herald Post