Junior Najala Howell (16 points, 10 rebounds) and senior Tamara Seda (13 points, 13 rebounds) each posted double-doubles to help the UTEP women’s basketball team notch a hard-fought 65-55 win against Texas Southern in the final game of the sixth-annual UTEP Thanksgiving Classic at the Don Haskins Center Saturday afternoon.
At 4-0 Kevin Baker has matched the best start by a first-year UTEP head coach in program history. The only other time it happened was in the program’s first season when Carol Ammermann also peeled off four straight victories in 1974-75. Baker is the eighth head coach at the school. Moreover, UTEP is already half way toward matching last season’s overall win total (8-23).
The Miners (4-0) never trailed in the contest and used a 10-0 run midway through the fourth quarter to break the game’s one and only tie (48-48, 5:20 4Q) in decisive fashion. UTEP held the Lady Tigers (1-4), who have averaged 20 wins the past five years, to 38.8 percent shooting (19-49) while also crushing them on the boards (46-25). Playing a big role in the rebounding margin was a season-high 21 offensive rebounds which led to 21 second-chance points for the home side.
The Miners connected on 34.0 percent (18-53) of their shots but they more than made up for that with their rebounding and defensive efforts, in addition to setting season bests for free-throws made (26), attempted (33) and percentage (.788). In fact the Orange and Blue were 16-17 at the charity stripe in the pressure-packed fourth quarter.
“We had to win a different way today,” Baker said. “We had to grind it out, get tons of offensive rebounds. We found different ways to score. I’m really proud of our kids because one of the hardest things to do is to grind out a physical victory like that. Good things come to those who just keep chopping wood. That’s what we do. We just try to keep getting after it. We are certainly not perfect. We’ve got a long, long way to go but the neat thing is watching them figure out different ways to win. This was one of those days when we figured out a way to win when we maybe weren’t playing our ‘A game.’”
Sophomore Katarina Zec chipped in 10 points, her third straight game in double figures, while also grabbing a career-high eight rebounds. Junior Jordan Alexander registered 13 points and six caroms while sophomore Roeshonda Patterson provided a spark off the best with a season-high seven points and career-high matching three rebounds.
Kaitlyn Palmer (24 points) and Joyce Kennerson (16 points) powered the offensive efforts for Texas Southern, but no other player on the squad finished with more than nine points.
UTEP scored the first six points of the game, receiving jumpers by Zec, Seda and Howell to power the mini run. The Miners extended that advantage to eight (16-8) with 1:39 to play in the period before TSU accounted for six straight to cut the margin to two (16-14) heading to the second quarter.
The Miners quickly reinstated that eight-point cushion (24-16) but once again the visitors had a response. This time it came in the form of a 7-0 push over next three minutes to sneak within one (24-23) with 5:44 to play in the quarter. The Miners adjusted and tightened things up considerably on defense, holding TSU to just two points while forcing six turnovers during the remainder of the quarter. While UTEP struggled to knock down shots at the other end it did well to get to the free throw line, eventually extending its lead out to six (31-25) at the half.
Defense was the dominant theme of the third quarter, with neither team able to find much rhythm at the offensive end of the court. The Miners led by as many as nine (37-28) in the frame before settling for a seven-point cushion (42-35) entering the fourth quarter.
The Lady Tigers continued to claw and fight their way back into the game down the stretch, eventually forging the first and only tie of the tilt at 48 with 5:20 to play. UTEP didn’t blink, responding by ripping off 10 straight points over the next three minutes to seal the visitor’s fate. Howell accounted for half of the points in the surge, including a 3-pointer from the wing.
TSU never got nearer than eight the rest of the way, with the Orange and Blue continuing to take care of business at the free throw line to close out the game in style.
UTEP will be back in action when it plays host to I-25 rival New Mexico at 5:30 p.m. MST Thursday. The game is part of a doubleheader with the Miners’ men’s basketball team (UTEP vs. NM State-8 p.m.). Fans can see both contests by purchasing a men’s basketball ticket by calling 915-747-5234.