Photo by Ruben R. Ramirez | El Paso Herald Post
The UTEP women’s basketball team (7-4) will christen Conference USA play at home against FIU (3-8) at 7 p.m. Thursday.
“It’s Conference USA time so we’ve got 18 tough ones, and it all starts vs. FIU. They are athletic, fast and dangerous. They aren’t a great rebounding team, but they are big and athletic. If they get hot, then they are a tough team to beat,” UTEP head coach Kevin Baker said.
The Miners are looking to take advantage of the fresh start presented by the conference slate and snap a three-game skid in the process. The three setbacks have been decided by a combined 23 points, including most recently falling to Tulsa, 58-51, on Dec. 29.
The Panthers have dropped two straight, including a 72-57 loss to Brown at home on Dec. 29.
UTEP is 11-3 in Conference USA openers since joining the league (2005-06), aided by winning nine of the last 10. The Miners are 2-0 under Kevin Baker in the situation, with a pair of road victories.
Overall UTEP stands 16-22 all time in conference lid lifters. After playing back-to-back league openers on the road and three of the past four, UTEP gets to christen conference play with consecutive home contests.
UTEP enters league play at 7-4, which is much improved from a year ago. The Miners were 2-9 at this juncture in 2018-19, and eventually finished the year at 9-22.
Five of UTEP’s victories have been by double figures, including three of at least 20 points. The Miners had their largest differential (+45) under head coach Kevin Baker in a 92-47 drubbing of Alcorn State (11/16), in addition to toppling Western Michigan (11/29) by 30 (76-46) and a 20-point (65-45) dispatching of NM State (11/23).
It marks the first time since 2013-14 that UTEP posted at least three nonconference wins against DI programs by 20+ points. That year the Miners had six such efforts prior to league action.
FIU is 3-8 on the year, but it stands 2-1 on the road. It heads into Thursday’s match-up having dropped back-to-back contests, including last time out falling at home to Brown, 72-57.
The Panthers have a balanced attack offensively with three different players in double figures for scoring. They are Jiselle Thomas (11.9 ppg), Fujika Nimmo (10.3 ppg) and Chelsea Guimaraes (10.2 ppg). Diene Diane (6.6 ppg) is the only other player pitching in more than 4.0 ppg. Guimaraes (8.0 rpg) is the top rebounder for the squad.
FIU does a solid job defending the three, ranking sixth in C-USA with a 29.5 3-point field-goal percentage defense. It is also seventh in the league for both blocked shots per game (3.1) and fewest fouls per contest (17.0). Problems have arisen in other areas, though, with the
Panthers last in C-USA for assists per game (9.8), field-goal percentage (38.1), rebound margin (-2.6), scoring margin (-11.8), scoring offense (55.2), turnover margin (-6.1) and turnovers forced per game (11.7). FIU returned four starters and seven letter winners overall from last year’s team (5-24, 2-14 C-USA).
UTEP leads the series with FIU, 10-2, including a perfect 5-0 mark in El Paso. Nine of the 10 match-ups have occurred since the Panthers joined Conference USA for the 2013-14 season.
Thursday’s game is the lone scheduled meeting on the year between the programs. UTEP is riding a four-contest winning streak in the series, including a 60-55 road conquest on Feb. 9, 2018, last season.
Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for kids, and may be purchased by calling (915) 747-5234.
The game will be streamed on CUSA.TV (subscription based) and broadcast locally on 600 ESPN El Paso with Steve Kaplowitz and Traci Miller on the call.