Junior Zuzanna Puc produced a double-double (23 points, career-high 14 boards) while redshirt-junior Neidy Ocuane (career-high 14 points) and junior Katarina Zec (12 points) also got going on offense but short-handed UTEP was clipped by Marshall, 63-60, inside the Don Haskins Center Thursday evening.
“I’m extraordinarily proud of our team,” UTEP head coach Kevin Baker said. “They’ve had every bit of adversity that you can have, but they keep working hard and coming back to the gym with a good attitude. They keep giving themselves chances like we did tonight.”
The Miners (4-17, 1-7 C-USA), who dressed seven players, led for 28 minutes. They were up by 11 (45-34) at the break after matching their highest scoring half of the season. To their credit the Thundering Herd (12-9, 6-2 C-USA) struck back, on the way to leading by seven (57-50) with six minutes to go. UTEP climbed back to within one (61-60), but Zec’s jumper from inside the free-throw line in the waning seconds spun out. After a foul, Marshall’s Khadaijia Brooks connected on both free throws. UTEP called timeout to advance the ball, but Jordan Alexander’s desperation 3-pointer to tie it came up short.
UTEP continued to be plagued by injuries, suiting up only seven players. Ariona Gill logged 10 minutes in her first action after missing eight straight games to an injury, pitching in two points and three helpers. Every other Miner played at least 20 minutes, with Puc (career-high 39 minutes), Zec (38 minutes) and Ocuane (career-high tying 37 minutes) securing the most time.
The Miners moved the ball effectively, recording 17 assists on their 22 made field goals. They also took care of it well, turning it over just nine times. UTEP held the Thundering Herd to 37.7 percent from the floor, including 26.7 percent (8-30) from distance. The Miners shot extremely well in the first half, connecting on 51.5 percent (17-33). They cooled off after the break, going 5-30 (16.7 percent) during the second half.
UTEP came out firing on all cylinders, scoring on its first three possessions to grab an early 7-5 advantage. After a mini push by the Thundering Herd that gave them a 10-9 edge, the Miners countered by unleashing an 11-3 run over the next four minutes to lead by seven (20-13) with 2:56 to play in the period. UTEP continued to knock down shots, on the way to leading by 11 (29-18) through 10 minutes of action. Puc was instrumental in the frame, tying for the second-most points (14) by a Miner in a quarter in program history.
It was a back-and-forth second quarter, with UTEP extending the margin to as many on 14 on a pair of occasions. Brooks hit a triple inside 30 seconds to play in the frame, allowing MU to keep the deficit at 11 (45-34) heading to the second half It was at that point perhaps fatigue became a factor, with the Thundering Herd outscoring the Orange and Blue, 29-15, over the final 20 minutes of the contest.
Even with the shots not going down in the second half, UTEP’s defense kept it in the game. The Miners limited the Thundering Herd to just two points, the aforementioned free throws by Brooks, in the final 3:30 of the contest.
UTEP will wrap up its two-game homestand when it plays host to WKU at 1 p.m. MT Saturday. There will be a special presentation at halftime, with the first team in program history (1974-75) being recognized.
Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for kids and may be purchased by calling (915) 747-5234.