Zuzanna Puc registered her second straight double-double (17 points, 10 rebounds) and UTEP battled valiantly but its comeback bid came up short in a 69-65 defeat to NM State in the FirstLight Federal Credit Union Battle of I-10 at the Don Haskins Center Saturday afternoon.
The Miners (2-1) dug themselves an 18-5 hole nine minutes into the game, allowing the four-time defending WAC regular-season champion Aggies (3-0) a much greater cushion than they needed. UTEP went to work, reducing the deficit to eight (30-22) at the break.
The margin remained eight (53-45) with 7:14 remaining in regulation before the Miners uncorked an 11-3 surge to finally pull even at 56 with 3:03 left. NM State didn’t flinch, countering with 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to extend its advantage back to six (62-56). UTEP inched within three (64-61) with 1:08 left but the Aggies put the game away by nailing their eighth and final triple of the contest.
“We didn’t start out well and got ourselves in a bit of a hole,” UTEP head coach Kevin Baker said. “I thought that was the difference in the game because we were fighting over that hump, fighting over that hump, fighting over that hump. I thought that when we tied it up we were in really good shape because we had had so much momentum. The crowd was really doing a great job. But you have to give credit where credit is due. We dared them all night long to make perimeter shots. They made them late. Our hat is off to them today. They played just a little bit better than the Miners today.”
Katarina Zec (14 points), Ariona Gill (14 points) and Alexa Hoy (career-high 13 points) joined Puc in double figures for scoring. Neidy Ocuane got involved as well, setting career bests for points (five), rebounds (five) and assists (three).
UTEP finished at 35.3 percent (18-51) from the floor, which was hindered by going 6-27 (22.2 percent)in the first half. The Miners nearly made up for that by going 24-34 (70.6 percent) at the free-throw line, committing a season-low 14 turnovers and winning the boards (36-33), but the Aggies had too much firepower.
Brooke Salas poured in 18 points while grabbing 11 rebounds and dishing out a game-high seven helpers to set the tone for her squad. Monique Mills (11 points) and Dominique Mills (11 points) got after it as well. NM State connected on 48.3 percent (28-58) from the floor, including 8-23 from distance.
The Orange and Blue will be back in action when they play host to the seventh-annual UTEP Thanksgiving Classic. The event begins with a contest between Texas Southern and Abilene Christian at 1 p.m. MT Friday.
The Miners open up the Classic by locking up with Nicholls State at 3:30 p.m. MT Friday. One ticket serves as admission for both games. They are $5 for adults and $3 for kids, and may be purchased by calling (915) 747-5234.