UTEP (14-13, 5-9 C-USA) will take aim at clinching a spot in the 2018 Conference USA Women’s Basketball Championships (March 7-10) when it plays host to FIU (7-20, 4-10 C-USA) at 7 p.m. MST Thursday.
Heading into Thursday’s tilt the Miners sit in 12th place in the C-USA standings (the top 12 of 14 teams in the league qualify), with a one-game lead on the Panthers. A UTEP win would punch its ticket to the tourney and complete a season series sweep with FIU. It would also snap the Miners’ gut-wrenching five-contest skid, with the setbacks coming by a combined 19 points.
Previously the smallest combined differential at the school during a five-game slide was 41 points (1984-85, middle of a 12-tilt skid).
Steve Kaplowitz and Traci Miller will have the call on 600 ESPN El Paso. The tilt will also be streamed live on CUSA.tv (subscription required). Additionally fans may follow the Miners on Twitter (@UTEPWBB) for timely updates.
Fans can connect with the Miners on Facebook (UTEP Women’s Basketball), Instagram (@utepwbb) and Twitter (@UTEPWBB). They are also encouraged to use #WeAreMiners in posts.
INSIDE THE SERIES
UTEP leads the series with FIU, 6-2, including 6-1 since the Panthers joined Conference USA. The Miners are perfect (4-0) when locking up with them in El Paso, with each of the wins by double figures. This is the third straight year that the Miners are playing a home-and-home series with the Panthers.
UTEP knocked off FIU, 77-76, in the C-USA opener for both squads on Jan. 5, 2018. UTEP swept the season series in 2015-16 while both home teams successfully defended their home court last season.
HE SAID IT (COACH BAKER ON FIU)
“FIU is a very athletic and quick team that really works hard to either get in the paint off the dribble or shoot the three pointer. They will be a tough challenge for us as we regroup and try to get in the conference tournament. The last time we played it was a one-point win for the Miners but Tamara (Seda) was knocked out of the game in the first three minutes. It may be a different kind of game if she can play most of the contest.”
GETTING TO KNOW FIU
FIU put together a mark of 3-10 in non-conference play before getting off to a 3-2 start in Conference USA action. The Panthers are 1-8 since that point, with the first seven games in the sequence all being losses, to drop them to 7-20 overall and 4-10 in C-USA play. FIU’s biggest issue has been the inability to play well on the road (0-10 overall, 0-6 C-USA) in hostile situations this season.
Four of the six road setbacks in league play have been by single digits, including being edged, 67-63, last time out at Florida Atlantic on Feb. 25. The Panthers are paced by Kristian Hudson, who paces the team in scoring (14.3 ppg-14th C-USA), assists (4.7 apg-5th C-USA/87th NCAA) and steals (0.9 spg).
Hudson is also in the rankings for free-throw percentage (83.3-6th C-USA/56th NCAA) Kiandre’a Pound is also in double figures for scoring (13.0 ppg-20th C-USA) while topping the team in rebounding (9.0 rpg-5th C-USA/61st NCAA), offensive rebounds per game (3.0-tied 4th C-USA), defensive rebounds per game (6.0-4th C-USA) and blocked shots (0.8 bpg-15th C-USA).
Alexis Gordon is just shy of double figures (9.4 ppg), and she is a big threat from distance. She has nailed 50-119 for a readout of 42.0 percent (5th C-USA/31st in the nation). It works out to 2.4 (7th C-USA/101st NCAA) 3-pointers per contest. Hudson also is sharpshooter, nailing 1.7 treys per tilt (15th C-USA). On the year she stands 46-137 (33.6 percent) from beyond-the-arc.
Kayla Rogers is a threat with her passing (3.0 apg-13th C-USA) while also pitching in 7.3 ppg. FIU is in the upper half of the C-USA team rankings for free-throw percentage (74.1-3rd), 3-point field goal defense (31.2-5th), field-goal percentage defense (39.6-6th), 3-pointers made per game (6.1-6th), free throws made (343-7th), fewest personal fouls per game (17.3-7th), rebounds per game (38.1-7th) and 3-point field-goal percentage (33.2-7th).
The Panthers are 62nd nationally for their effort at the charity stripe. FIU returned three starters and four letter winners overall from last year’s team (5-24) and was picked 14th in the 2017-18 C-USA preseason poll. Notable school alumni include Andy Garcia (actor) and Dennis Lehane (author of Mystic River).
LAST MEETING WITH FIU (UTEP 77, at FIU 76 (1/5/18)
Najala Howell poured in 21 points, including the game-winning free throws with 3.5 seconds left, as UTEP gutted out a 77-76 victory at FIU in the Conference USA opener for both squads on Jan. 5. After the two charity stripe tosses by Howell, the Panthers’ Kristian Hudson misfired on a triple at the buzzer to clinch the third straight win for the Miners.
The victory is even more impressive considering that UTEP played the final 37 minutes of the contest without leading rebounder and scorer, Tamara Seda, who sustained an early injury. It was a back-and-forth affair with 12 ties and 14 lead changes. The Miners led by two at the break before a 13-0 run in the third quarter afforded FIU a nine-point lead (52-45) with 2:45 to play in the frame.
UTEP was able to cut the deficit to four heading to the fourth quarter and then completed the comeback by outscoring the Panthers, 24-19, over the final 10 minutes. Zuzanna Puc filled in admirably for Seda with 18 points and 11 rebounds for her first double-double of the year off the bench. Roeshonda Patterson joined her in double figures with 12 points off the pine while also grabbing a career-high five rebounds.
Faith Cook added nine points and a pair of helpers while Katarina Zec also scored nine points. The Miners shot 49.2 percent (29-59) from the floor, including 41.2 percent (7-17) from 3-point range. UTEP was 12-16 on free throws, including Howell’s perfect 9-9 night. FIU nailed an opponent season-high 13 triples and finished at 43.1 percent (25-58) from the floor.
GOING BACK IN TIME (at Southern Miss 60, UTEP 53, 2/25/18)
Tamara Seda notched her 13th double-double (14 points, 13 rebounds) of the season but homestanding Southern Miss made a late run to clip the Miners, 60-53, in Hattiesburg on Feb. 25, 2018. The Miners led 50-47 with 6:14 remaining in regulation only to have the Lady Eagles close the contest on a 13-3 surge to hand UTEP its fifth straight setback.
Those losses have been by a combined 19 points. UTEP connected on 43.2 percent (19-44) to USM’s 41.1 percent (23-56) and easily controlled the boards (39-23) but the home side nailed nine 3-pointers and forced 24 Miner turnovers that led to 35 points. Seven of the giveaways came in the final 6:14 of the contest to fuel the USM comeback, including five straight possessions during the first three minutes of the sequence.
The Orange and Blue led for nearly 25 minutes, and were up by seven (47-40) late in the third quarter only to have the Lady Eagles rally. The game figured five ties and three lead changes. Jordan Alexander joined Seda in double figures with 10 points while four other Miners scored between six-eight points each. USM was paced by a 22-point outburst by Megan Brown, including going 6-10 from distance. Shonte Hailes and Jayla King each netted 10 points.
COMPARE AND CONTRAST
UTEP is 14-13 (5-9 in C-USA, 9-4 in non-conference play), which surpasses last season’s overall victory total (8-23, 5-13 C-USA) by six wins while matching the number of league victories. UTEP finished 5-8 on the road on the regular season after going 1-9 in hostile territory last year.
The Miners have enjoyed three different winning streaks of at least two contests, including peeling off four consecutive triumphs to christen the campaign. Last year’s squad only managed win back-to-back games once. The difference in play extends beyond wins and losses, especially with 3-point shooting and scoring defense. The chart below compares and contrasts the overall average stats by this year’s Miners (14-13, 5-9 C-USA) vs. the 2016-17 squad (6-20, 3-11 C-USA) ) through 27 contests.