UTEP forced 23 turnovers and held No. 20 Arizona to its lowest scoring output in a nonconference game in three years but couldn’t get enough shots to fall in a 54-43 setback at the Don Haskins Center Saturday afternoon.
“I’m really, really proud of our team,” UTEP head coach Kevin Baker said. “We played terrific defense, especially in the fourth quarter. We held them to one field goal in the whole fourth quarter. That had a lot to do with our defensive energy, with the energy in the Haskins Center. I thought our fans were terrific today. We’re just going to get better and better.”
The Miners (7-2) limited the Wildcats (9-0) to 38.0 percent shooting (19-50), including just 7.1 percent (1-14) from beyond-the-arc. Arizona entered the contest averaging 78 points and shooting 49 percent from the floor. UTEP also kept All-American Aari McDonald to 13 points on 4-14 shooting, eight below her scoring output.
The defensive effort, particularly over the final three quarters, helped give Arizona its smallest margin of victory on the year. The Wildcats brought a +33 scoring margin into the game.
Ariona Gill (11 points) and Katia Gallegos (10 points) paced UTEP on offense. The Miners shot 43 percent in the opening frame but couldn’t sustain that on the way to finishing at 25.9 percent (15-58) for the day.
But the defense, which kept Arizona to 1-9 in the final quarter, allowed the home side to be down by just nine with three minutes to play. UTEP could get no closer, with the Wildcats hitting enough free throws down stretch to hold on.
The Wildcats were led by Cate Reese’s double-double (19 points, 17 rebounds).
UTEP struck first with a triple from Katarina Zec before Arizona countered with eight quick points to prompt a timeout from Baker. The Miners responded by firing off a quick 5-0 run, including a trey by Sabine Lipe, to knot the game at 8-8.
The Wildcats answered with a 5-0 push of their own. UTEP ended the push with a fastbreak layup by Gill but still found itself down by seven (21-14) through 10 minutes of action.
Arizona tallied the first eight points in the second quarter to put the Orange and Blue down by 15 (29-14) midway through the stanza. Gill stopped it with a free throw, and then UTEP turned up the heat defensively. The Miners kept the Wildcats without a field goal for almost five minutes, but they couldn’t get enough shots of their own to fall. UTEP headed into halftime trailing by 16 (33-17).
It remained at 16-point differential early in the fourth quarter before UTEP’s defense allowed the Orange and Blue to chip away. A jumper by Gallegos was followed by a lay-up from Gill, forcing Arizona to call timeout with its advantage trimmed to 13 (49-36). UTEP continued to fight and got within nine (50-41) after a corner triple by Avery Crouse, but the Wildcats were able to hold on.
The Miners will be idle for final exams before returning to action at American Athletic Conference member SMU at 6 p.m. MT/7 p.m. CT on Dec. 19.
For complete coverage of UTEP women’s basketball, be sure to follow the Miners on social media at @UTEPWBB (Twitter), @utepwbb (Instagram) and on Facebook or click here to visit the official home of UTEP Athletics.
Gallery by Ruben R. Ramirez & Johnny Yturales – El Paso Herald Post