Najala Howell had a career-high tying 23 points, career-high 13 rebounds | Photo courtesy UTEP Athletics
SAN ANTONIO – Najala Howell (career-high tying 23 points, career-high 13 rebounds), Tamara Seda (19 points, 12 rebounds) and Katarina Zec (17 points, four rebounds) all had big days to help lift UTEP past homestanding UTSA, 66-53, Sunday afternoon.
The Miners (14-8, 5-4 C-USA) led by four (48-44) with six minutes to play in the contest before Howell took over. She ripped off 10 consecutive points to give UTEP its largest lead in the game (58-44) with 3:43 left in regulation and the Roadrunners (4-17, 2-8 C-USA) couldn’t get closer than seven the rest of the way. The effort afforded UTEP its first victory in San Antonio in four years.
“Obviously we didn’t play our ‘A-game’ today but I’m so proud that we were able to guard them,” UTEP head coach Kevin Baker said. “I’m really proud of our kids, they’re resilient and they’re tough.”
The Miners shot 43.9 percent (25-57) from the floor, including nailing 6-16 (37.5 percent) from distance, in addition to crushing UTSA on the boards (47-29). The home side was held to 33.8 percent (23-68) shooting and finished 0-9 from beyond-the-arc.
Howell, Seda and Zec accounted for 59 of UTEP’s 66 points in the game. Jordan Alexander pitched in two points but did have seven rebounds. UTSA was led by Marie Benson’s 20 points.
UTEP had good energy early, and when Faith Cook found Seda in transition for a lay-up it led, 7-2, with 6:33 to play in the frame. It remained a five-point cushion (9-4) before the Miners went cold offensively with a scoreless stretch of more than five minutes to end the quarter. UTSA took advantage to score the final six points of the frame and lead, 10-9, through 10 minutes of action.
The Roadrunners added another score early in the second quarter to make it 12-9. UTEP tightened things up defensively and then got its offense back on track with three consecutive triples sandwiching a UTSA lay-up. The 9-2 push put the Miners back ahead, 18-14, with 6:28 to play in the period while also forcing the home side to call timeout. The stoppage paid dividends for the Roadrunners, who responded with six straight points to pull back ahead by two (20-18). The two sides traded scores over the next several minutes, with UTEP eventually ending up on top (27-24) heading to the locker room.
After UTSA got a jumper to get within one (27-26) UTEP responded with five straight points, all courtesy of Zec. She splashed home a triple before securing a defensive board and going coast-to-coast for the score to make it 32-26 with 8:30 to play in the quarter. After UTSA was able to trim the margin to four a mini 5-0 run by the Miners put them up by nine (39-30) with 4:19 to play in the stanza. UTSA counted with six straight points to cut it to three (39-36) but the Miners peeled off five straight points-all by Seda- to go back up by eight. The Roadrunners used back-to-back scores to slice the lead in half but a driving Zec lay-up made it a six-point contest (46-40) after three quarters of play.
It was a four-point game (48-44) with six minutes left in the game before Howell took over. She scored 10 straight points in the contest to suddenly put the Orange and Blue up by 14 (58-44) with three minutes remaining in regulation. She started the stretch with back-to-back lay-ups. After the Miners got another stop, Howell was left open for a corner 3-pointer that was pure. UTSA misfired on its ensuing trip and Howell capped the dominating sequence with a hoop and harm.
The Roadrunners showed good fight by tallying seven consecutive points to cut the lead in half but it was far too little, too late.
The Miners will be back in action when they play host to LA Tech at 1 p.m. on Saturday. There will be free admission to the contest as part of UTEP’s annual celebration with Nationals Girls and Women in Sports Day.
The game will be broadcast on 600 ESPN El Paso while also being streamed at CUSA.tv (subscription required).