LAS VEGAS – Zuzanna Puc posted a double-double (season-best 24 points, 11 rebounds) and UTEP erupted for a season high in points in an 84-72 win against Western Illinois as part of the Las Vegas South Point Holiday Hoops Classic Thursday afternoon.
“It was great to watch our team play well,” UTEP head coach Kevin Baker said. “We really put a lot of work into that game so I was glad to see it pay off. We got that big lead and they made a run back at us. We could have said ‘here we go again’ but we didn’t do that. We responded with some big baskets inside from Zuza (Zuzanna Puc). I’m just really proud of our team today.”
The Miners (3-8) shot a campaign-best 53.6 percent (30-56) from the floor, aided by nailing a season-high 11 3-pointers on 19 attempts for their top percentage (.579) from distance on the year to snap an eight-game skid in style. UTEP led for 30 minutes against the Fighting Leathernecks (3-9), including being up by as many as 20 (77-57) in the fourth quarter.
Puc had a field day against a WIU squad that didn’t have a player taller than 6’0, shooing 9-18 from the floor and securing four of her 11 rebounds on the offensive end. She was the lone member of the Orange and Blue to reach double figures in scoring, but every Miner had least four points in the contest.
Puc led with 24, followed by Alexa Hoy (nine points), Jordan Alexander (eight points), Ariona Gill (eight points), Neidy Ocuane (career-high eight points), Sabine Lipe (career-best seven points), Katarina Zec (seven points), Jade Rochelle (five points), Jordan Jenkins (four points) and Ariana Taylor (four points).
UTEP shared the ball well, recording 23 assists on 30 made field goals. Jenkins set the tone in that department with a career-high tying seven dimes compared to just one giveaway. Gill added a personal-best matching four helpers. The Miners also dominated on the boards (41-27) and in points in the paint (34-20)
WIU was paced by 24 points from Taylor Higginbotham while Olivia Kaufmann (13 points) and Elizabeth Lutz (10 points) also reached double figures in scoring. The Fighting Leathernecks finished at 39.7 percent (23-58) from the floor, including going 11-36 (30.6) on 3-point attempts.
After the two teams went back-and-forth over the first seven minutes of the game, WIU put together an 8-2 push to surge ahead by five (17-12, 1:03 4Q). UTEP countered by scoring seven of the final nine points in the quarter to pull even (19-19) through 10 minutes of action. The 19 points equaled the Miners’ highest scoring first quarter of the season.
Back-to-back baskets from WIU put it back in front early in the second stanza, but the Orange and Blue caught fire from distance on the way to roaring into the lead. The Miners hit 4-5 from beyond-the-arc in the quarter, which allowed them to stake a three-point edge (39-36) going into halftime.
It remained a close contest (47-46) midway through the third quarter, but UTEP created some breathing room by scoring eight straight. The run proved to be decisive, with the Fighting Leathernecks not getting closer than six points the rest of the way.
UTEP’s 28 points in the third quarter were the most in a frame this season and tied as the ninth-highest total in program history. The Miners also established season highs for both first half (39) and second-half (45) points.
UTEP will take aim at its second win in as many days when it locks up with Akron at 5 p.m. PT/6 p.m. PT inside South Point Arena on Friday. The contest will be broadcast locally on 600 ESPN El Paso with Steve Kaplowitz on the call.