UTEP opens road portion of C-USA slate at Southern Miss Thursday

The UTEP women’s basketball team (9-4, 2-0 C-USA) will face its first road test of conference play when it squares off at Southern Miss (9-3, 1-0 C-USA) at 5 p.m. MT Thursday.

The game is the first of two on the road for the Miners, who will also play at LA Tech at 1 p.m. MT Saturday.

Southern Miss and LA Tech are a combined 15-2 at home on the year. UTEP is 1-1 on the road. The Miners enter the match-up with momentum, having won back-to-back conference contests by 30+ points for the first time in program history.

UTEP is off to a 2-0 start in C-USA action for the first occasion since 2016, including blasting Florida Atlantic, 96-65, last time out at home on Jan. 4. The 96 points were the most under head coach Kevin Baker, and rate as the fourth-highest total in a conference contest in program annals.

USM has won back-to-back contests, including holding off LA Tech, 66-60, at home on Jan. 4. UTEP (2-0), Rice (2-0) and Southern Miss (1-0) are the lone teams without a loss in league action after the opening week of play.

“They press, they get after you a bit. They’re a great offensive rebounding team. They’re not the best shooting team we’ve played all year, but they are a great offensive rebounding threat. They have a great scorer inside and a great point guard who will keep us busy and keep us challenged,” head coach Kevin Baker said.

In 2018-19 the Miners were decimated by injuries and finished the year at 9-22. It is a much different story this year, with UTEP (9-4) having already matched its overall win total from a season ago. The Miners are also off to a 2-0 start in C-USA action. Last year they began league play at 1-8 en route to finishing 5-11 in conference action.

Seven of UTEP’s victories have been by double figures, including five of at least 20 points. It is the most wins by 20+ points since 2013-14 (nine). The Miners had their largest differential (+45) under head coach Kevin Baker in a 92-47 drubbing of Alcorn State (11/16/19), which tied as the 10th-biggest margin of victory in program history. They’ve also taken down Florida Atlantic (1/4/20) by 31 (96-65), FIU (1/2/20) by 30 (64-34), Western Michigan (11/29) by 30 (76-46) and a NM State (11/23/19) by 20 (64-45).

Overall UTEP’s scoring margin (+12.3) ranks second in C-USA and 55th in the nation.

UTEP leads the series, 13-9, but Southern Miss has a 5-4 cushion when playing in Hattiesburg. Southern Miss has claimed two straight and four of the past five, including a 64-63 win in El Paso on Feb. 16, 2019, in the lone meetings between the programs last year. Twenty one of the 22 match-ups between the programs have come since 2005-06 when UTEP joined C-USA.

For the first time since the 1982-83 season (prior records incomplete), the Miners scored at least 90 points in a contest without having an individual player tally at least 15 points. UTEP exploded for 96 points in the win against Florida Atlantic (1/4/20), with DeJaNae Roebuck and Ariona Gill sharing the team lead with 14 points each.

UTEP is getting after it on defense in 2019-20, ranking among the league and national leaders for several defensive categories. The Miners top the country in 3-point field-goal percentage defense (21.2). They are also making waves with turnovers forced per game (21.1-first/24th), scoring defense (56.0-third/32nd) and field-goal percentage defense (35.6-fourth/40th).

All of those figures were aided when UTEP set the program record for fewest points allowed in a conference contest by holding FIU to 34 points on Jan. 2.

The game will be streamed on CUSA.TV (subscription based) and also through the 600 ESPN El Paso website with Brandon Cohn on the call.