“I’m really proud of our team,” UTEP head coach Kevin Baker said. “I think going through that tough stretch where we lost five games in a row really is the thing that propelled us to win, not just today but Thursday as well. | Photo Courtesy UTEP Athletics
Tamara Seda recorded her eight double-double (16 points, 10 rebounds) of the year and UTEP used a huge third quarter (23-6) to down Charlotte, 67-58, in its Conference USA home opener at the Don Haskins Center Thursday afternoon.
The 49ers (6-10, 2-1 C-USA) led the Miners (11-5, 2-1 C-USA) 25-10 with 6:18 to play in the first half but UTEP wrapped a 36-10 run around halftime to surge into the lead (46-35). Charlotte then tried to play catch-up, cutting the deficit to four on a three separate occasions but the Miners were able to counter every challenge.
The 15-point comeback ties as the fifth-largest rally in program history.
“I don’t know what happened in the first quarter, we just weren’t ready to play,” UTEP head coach Kevin Baker said. “But I was so proud of our team because we were playing so bad in the first quarter but they just kept fighting, kept hanging around and kept playing. Credit to our kids for not losing their composure. Getting off to a rough start is scary because you don’t know if you’re going to pick it back up but this team I don’t know why I worry about their resiliency because they’re as tough as they come. They showed that again today.”
Najala Howell (16 points) and Zuzanna Puc (12 points) joined Seda in Double figures for scoring while Faith Cook added nine points and six assists and Katarina Zec pitched in seven points and four helpers. UTEP enjoyed its highest-scoring second half (44) of the season while also setting campaign highs for steals (11).
The Miners connected on 43.4 percent (23-53), won the boards (39-30) and forced 17 Charlotte turnovers that led to 18 points. The 49ers were held to 39.3 percent (22-56) shooting, with Laia Raventos (20 points) and Octavia Wilson (11 points) keying the charge for the visitors.
The visitors came ready to play, bolting out to an early nine-point lead (14-5) with 5:16 to play in the first quarter. Howell drilled a pull-up triple to make it a six-point contest (14-8) with 3:17 left in the frame. Neither squad could get anything going over the next couple of minutes before Wilson sunk a jumper late in the quarter to make it 18-10 in favor of the visitors heading to the second quarter.
Charlotte opened up the second quarter on 7-0 run to put the Miners in a 15-point hole (25-10) with 6:18 to play in the half. The deficit was 14 (26-12) with 4:21 remaining before the Orange and Blue started to make their move with a 9-0 push. Jordan Jenkins got things going with a triple, which was followed by a lay-up by Puc.
After the Miners got another stop, Seda was fouled and calmly converted a pair of tosses at the charity stripe. Puc closed the surge with a fastbreak lay-up off the feed from Zec. The 49ers halted it with a free throw but Puc nailed another jumper to reduce the deficit to four. Charlotte secured a six-point lead (29-23) at the half thanks to a baseline jumper from Wilson in the waning seconds of the quarter.
Charlotte’s Amaya Ransom buried a triple to start the third quarter on a high note for the visitors but it was practically all UTEP the rest of the frame. The Miners countered with an 18-1 run, which was a part of the aforementioned 36-10 surge, to vault into the lead at 41-33. UTEP’s advantage ballooned to 11 (46-35) heading to the fourth quarter.
To their credit the 49ers didn’t quit but rather tallied the first seven points of the fourth quarter to creep within four (46-42). UTEP had a response, with Howell drilling a 3-pointer before converting a driving lay-up for a personal 5-0 run. The 49ers regrouped and were able to trim the margin to four (55-51) but Puc sunk a pair of free throws.
After Raventos hit a lay-up to once again make it a four-point contest (57-53), Howell tripled to reinstate a seven-point cushion. The 49ers didn’t get closer than five the rest of the way.
UTEP will continue its three-game homestand when it plays host to C-USA preseason favorite Middle Tennessee at 12 p.m. MST Saturday.
The game will be broadcast locally in El Paso on 600 ESPN El Paso with Brandon Cohn and Traci Miller on the call, in addition to be live streamed through CUSA.tv.