FILE: UTEP #12 Sparkle Taylor was the 2016 C-USA Sixth Player of the Year for the regular-season champion Miners. She also helped UTEP earn runner-up honors at the 2014 WNIT and advance to the quarterfinals in 2016
UTEP (7-20, 4-11 C-USA) will look to send out Sparkle Taylor in style when it plays host to FIU (5-21, 4-11 C-USA) on “Senior Day” at 2 p.m. MST Saturday.
Taylor, who will be recognized in a pre-game ceremony, has had a sensational career. She was the 2016 C-USA Sixth Player of the Year for the regular-season champion Miners. She also helped UTEP earn runner-up honors at the 2014 WNIT and advance to the quarterfinals in 2016. Taylor has been a prolific scorer, with her 1,264 career points ranking third all time at UTEP.
She will also finish with top-10 career rankings at the school for field goals made, attempted and percentage, free throws made and games played.
The Miners are aiming to stay perfect at home against FIU (3-0 all time) while also avenging a heartbreaking, 88-87, triple-overtime loss on a 35+foot 3-point buzzer-beating heave in Miami on Jan. 12, 2017.
After playing four straight league road games, UTEP is poised to cap a stretch of four consecutive conference home contests. The 2005-06 season, the Miners’ first in C-USA, was the last time that had occurred.
The Miners regained their winning ways by toppling Florida Atlantic, 69-59, on Thursday while the Panthers were dealt their seventh consecutive loss (L, 69-55, at UTSA). It was also the 10th setback in 11 contests for FIU.
A good result against FIU would help UTEP take a big step closer toward qualifying for the 2017 C-USA Women’s Basketball Championship presented by MetroPCS. (March 8-11, Birmingham, Ala.). The Miners are tied for 11th in the league standings with Marshall but FIU (3-12) is one game back. The top-12 squads qualify.
The Orange and Blue are vying for back-to-back wins for the first time this season, UTEP is 6-8 at home (3-5 C-USA while FIU is 1-9 on the road (1-7 C-USA).
Duke Keith (play-by-play) and Traci Miller (color commentary) will have the call on 600 ESPN El Paso, KROD-AM Radio. There will be a live stream on UTEPAthletics (subscription based). Fans can also stay up-to-date by following the Miners (@UTEPWBB) or Panthers (@FIUWBB) on Twitter.
Tickets are $5 for adults, $3 for kids.
THIS AND THAT ON CONFERENCE USA
– Teams play all 13 members at least once and face five teams in home-and-home for 18-game C-USA slate.
– The top 12 teams (14 in C-USA) will qualify for the single-elimination C-USA Women’s Basketball Championship presented by MetroPCS (March 8-11, Birmingham, Ala.-UAB) with the top four teams as seeded by regular season standings receiving a bye. The winner will gain the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Championship.
– WKU (13-2), Middle Tennessee (12-3), Southern Miss (11-5), Louisiana Tech (11-5), Old Dominion (10-5), Charlotte (9-6) UTSA (8-7), North Texas (8-7), Rice (7-8) and UAB (6-9) have all locked up a bid to the C-USA Women’s Basketball Championship presented by MetroPCS.
– Marshall (4-11), UTEP (4-11) and FIU (3-12) are fighting over the final two spots. FAU (0-15) is eliminated.
INSIDE THE SERIES (UTEP LEADS, 4-2 OVERALL; UTEP LEADS, 3-0 IN EL PASO)
– The Miners lead the series, 4-2, including 4-1 since FIU joined Conference USA.
– FIU used a 35+foot 3-point buzzer-beating heave to down UTEP, 88-87, in triple overtime in Miami on Jan. 12, 2017. It was longest game in program history, and FIU’s first win vs. UTEP as a C-USA member.
– This is the second straight season that UTEP and FIU are playing a home-and-home series.
– Last year UTEP swept the series, winning in Miami (69-57, 1/23/16) in later in El Paso (70-52, 2/11/16).
– UTEP has won the prior three meetings with the programs in El Paso, each by double digits.
– FIU downed UTEP, 82-38, in a neutral-site tilt back on Nov. 27, 1998.
GETTING TO KNOW FIU – Overall: 5-21 | Home: 4-12 Road: 1-9 Neutral: 0-0 ? C-USA: 3-12 Home: 2-5 Road: 1-7
– FIU is under the direction of first-year head coach Tiara Malcolm; she was an assistant coach in 2015-16 before serving as the acting head coach for the final four games of the year.
– FIU has the second-youngest coaching staff in the country; only McNeese State (109 years) has a combined age younger than FIU (115).
– Saddled with a start of 2-11, including 0-2 in C-USA play, before posting back-to-back victories. Included in that winning streak was the wild triple-overtime thriller to topple the Miners, 88-87, on Jan. 12.
– The Panthers have been unable to sustain the momentum from that surge; they have dropped seven straight and 10 of 11 contests. The lone win during that stretch came at Florida Atlantic (65-60, Jan. 26).
– FIU in sixth in Conference USA in free-throw shooting (69.5) and eighth in turnovers forced/game (15.5).
– FIU is last in the league for field-goal percentage (36.8), field-goal percentage defense (44.3), rebounds/game (31.7), rebound margin (-10.7), scoring offense (55.8), scoring defense (74.6) and scoring margin (-18.8).
– Among C-USA players Kristian Hudson is seventh in assists/game (4.5), tied ninth in steals/game (1.8), 11th in free-throw percentage (77.1), 14th in defensive boards/game (4.1) and 19th in scoring (12.7),
– Jenka Hegedus is 30th in C-USA for scoring (10.4).
– Alexis Gordon is tied for seventh in 3-pointers made/game (2.2)
– FIU was founded in 1965 but it has grown to the fourth-largest school (enrollment 56,000) in nation.
– Notable alumni include Andy Garcia (actor) and Dennis Lehane, author of Mystic River.
LAST MEETING WITH FIU: at FIU 88, UTEP 87 (1/12/17)
– Sparkle Taylor drilled a jumper with about three seconds remaining in triple overtime to put UTEP up, 87-85, but FIU’s Kristian Hudson’s desperation heave from about 35 feet went as time expired to sink the Miners, 88-87, in longest game in program history at Lime Court at FIU Arena on Jan. 12, 2017.
– Taylor paced the Miners with 21 points, but FIU pulled out a miraculous win thanks to Hudson (35 points) and company.
– Tamara Seda (14 points, 13 rebounds), Najala Howell (19 points), Katarina Zec (10 points), Lulu McKinney (nine points, nine assists) and Zuzanna Puc (eight points, six boards) made quality contributions.
– UTEP played ahead for 40 of 55 minutes; the game featured 15 lead changes and 13 ties.
– The Miners set then season highs for free throws made (25) and attempted (32), with Taylor going 9-9.
GOING BACK IN TIME: UTEP 69, Florida Atlantic 59 (2/23/17)
– Sparkle Taylor (22 points) paced a quartet of Miners in double figures, and UTEP regained its winning ways with a 69-59 conquest of Florida Atlantic on its “Play 4 Kay” night on Feb. 23.
– The Owls used a barrage of 3-pointers to surge out by 10 (22-12, 00:34 first quarter) but the Miners didn’t flinch. UTEP clamped down defensively, holding FAU to 1-18 shooting in the second quarter, to change the fortunes of the game with an 18-2 run to surge into the lead.
– The Miners’ margin swelled to as many as 15 (53-38, 2:11 third quarter), and they remained up by 10 (62-52) with 6:27to play. FAU, which entered the game having lost 15 straight and 19 of its past 20, showed off its tremendous heart and spirit by fighting back to within three (62-59, 2:47 fourth quarter) but UTEP got some stops, a Taylor turnaround jumper and free throws to ice the contest.
– Taylor’s 22 points lift her career total to 1,264, vaulting her to third on the Miners’ career charts.
– Tamara Seda (13 points), Najala Howell and Katarina Zec (10 points) joined Taylor in double figures while Zuzanna Puc pitched in seven points. The Miners won the boards, 45-36, thanks to Puc’s career-high tying 12 rebounds. Taylor (nine) and Seda (eight) also got after it on the glass. Puc also matched her personal best in blocks (two) to help UTEP accumulate seven rejections.
– The Miners connected on 41.7 percentage from the floor (25-60), including a sizzling 62.5 percent (10-16) during a huge third quarter (26 points). They took good care of the ball (14 turnovers) and pounded FAU down low with a 38-22 advantage in points in the paint and 18-4 cushion in second-chance points.
– The Miners have a +2.4 scoring margin (70.7-68.4) and a +5.5 rebounding margin (43.6-37.8) in their 14 home games (6-8) this year. Five of those six victories have been by double digits.