The UTEP women’s basketball team stormed out to a 28-9 first-quarter lead and never looked back on the way to posting a resounding 88-47 victory over Florida International to send Sparkle Taylor out in style on “Senior Day” Saturday afternoon at the Don Haskins Center.
The 41-point margin of victory is the second biggest in a conference game in program history.
The Miners (8-20, 5-11 C-USA) have won back-to-back games for the first time this year while the Panthers (5-22, 3-13 C-USA) were dealt their eighth consecutive loss. UTEP led 44-25 at the half and any aspirations the visitors had of mounting a second-half comeback when the Orange and Blue ripped off 20 straight points over the first five-plus minutes of the third quarter.
Taylor poured in a game-high 23 points to go along with seven rebounds and career-best tying five assists in a fitting final home performance for her career. Katarina Zec (career-high 13 points), (Tamara Seda (15 points, six rebounds) and Najala Howell (13 points, eight boards) also hit double figures for the Orange and Blue.
With the victory the Miners move into 11th place in the league standings, putting them on the verge of clinching a bid to the 2017 Conference USA Women’s Basketball Championships presented by MetroPCS (March 8-11). The last two spots (field of 12) are still up for grabs between UTEP (5-11 C-USA), Marshall (4-12 C-USA) and FIU (3-13 C-USA) but the Miners are in the driver’s seat.
“We are a young club but I’m very, very proud of our team and very happy for our players today,” UTEP head coach Keitha Adams said. “We’ve been through a lot. I’m really proud of how we’re still a team and have stayed together. We are competing and we have gotten better.”
UTEP drilled 44.9 percent (31-69) from the field, including a ridiculous 61.1 percent (11-18) during the huge third quarter (31-8). The 31 points in that frame tied as the third-most ever by the Miners in a quarter.
FIU finished at 36.5 percent (19-52) from the floor, which was hurt by going 0-10 from three-point range. The visitors also made 17 turnovers-compared to a season-low nine by UTEP- which lead to a 28-7 advantage for the Miners in points off turnovers. Janka Hegedus (16 points, six rebounds) was a bright spot for the Panthers.
The two sides traded scores in the early stages game, and UTEP led by two (8-6) with 6:57 to play in the opening frame. But much to the dismay of the Panthers, the Miners found another gear. UTEP unleashed a 20-3 run, including 16 straight at one point, to secure a dominating 19-point lead (28-9) after 10 minutes of action.
Taylor (eight points), Seda (six points) and Zec (five points) were instrumental in the quality first period, but not to be overlooked was the defensive effort by the Orange and Blue. FIU was held without a field goal for the final five-plus minutes of the frame.
To its credit FIU regrouped to play to-toe-toe with the Orange and Blue in a 16-16 second quarter. The visitors were unable to sustain that effort in the third quarter, with UTEP firing on all cylinders. The Miners fired off nine straight to start the frame and force an FIU timeout, but it proved to be ineffective. After the break in action UTEP scored the game’s next 11 points to account for the 20-0 run to seal FIU’s fate.
Adams was able to share the wealth with playing time, with all 12 Miners earning at least six minutes of playing time. Freshman Faith Cook contributed a game-high tying five assists and a career-best three steals while fellow classmate Jakeira Ford pitched in eight points and two boards. Lulu McKinney tallied six points and was credited with four assists while Zuzanna Puc had four points and six rebounds.
UTEP will look to keep things going when it returns to action at Old Dominion at 5 p.m. MST/7 p.m. EST Thursday. Brandon Cohn will have the call for 600 ESPN El Paso, KROD-AM Radio.