File Photo courtesy UTEP Athletics

UTEP to Face Southern Miss To Tip off 2018 CUSA Tourney Run

Ninth-seeded UTEP (16-13) will lock up with eight-seeded Southern Miss (15-14) in the opening round of the 2018 Conference USA Championships at The Star in Frisco, Texas, starting at 10 a.m. MST/11 a.m. CST Wednesday.

The Miners enter with momentum, having claimed their final two C-USA contests to secure their first league winning streak this year, including downing eventual second-seed WKU, 80-75, on March. 3. USM claimed two of its final three, but was upended by FIU, 74-70, on March 3. UTEP is competing at the league’s pinnacle event for the 13th time in as many seasons since joining C-USA.

Steve Kaplowitz and Traci Miller will have the call of the game on 600 ESPN El Paso while it will also be streamed live on Facebook (Doug Anderson-play-by-play, Kyle Youmans-analyst and Madi Morris-sideline reporter).

The winner of the game will advance to face top-seeded UAB (24-5) in the quarterfinals at 10 a.m. MST/11 a.m. CST Thursday.

Fans are encouraged to connect with the Miners on Facebook (UTEP Women’s Basketball), Instagram (@utepwbb) and Twitter (@UTEPWBB). They are also encouraged to use #WeAreMiners in posts.

UTEP is 12-8 all-time vs. Southern Miss, although the Lady Eagles have won three straight games against the Miners for the first time in series history. Most recently USM rallied past UTEP, 60-53, in Hattiesburg, Miss. on Feb. 25.

This is the fourth time that UTEP is locking up with Southern Miss at the Conference USA Championships, but the first occasion that the match-up is being held in the opening round. In 2014 USM downed UTEP, 80-74, in the semifinals. UTEP dispatched USM, 92-79, in the 2012 C-USA quarterfinals while also posting a win in the 2008 semis, 86-69.

“We felt like we let the game at Southern Miss get away from us toward the end last week. So we feel great about our chances and our draw in the tournament. We feel we are playing our best basketball right now, and we are a very dangerous team to play in March.”

Southern Miss got off to a 6-1 start on the season before going 2-4 over the next six games to conclude non-conference play at 8-5. After dropping their first two Conference USA contests, the Golden Eagles won three straight and five of seven to improve to 5-4 in league play.

They dropped the next four before claiming two of three to close out the regular season at 15-14, including 7-9 in C-USA action to earn the eighth seed at the C-USA Championships. Second-team All-Conference USA honoree Jayla King (15.5 ppg-7th C-USA/186th NCAA), Megan Brown (12.6 ppg-21st C-USA) and Shonte Hailes (12.4 ppg-22nd C-USA) key the USM attack.

King also leads the squad in rebounding (7.7-10th C-USA/172nd NCAA), offensive rebounds per game (2.9-tied 7th C-USA), defensive rebounds per game (4.8-13th C-USA) and steals (2.1-5th C-USA/132nd NCAA) while Hailes does so in assists (5.1 apg-2nd C-USA/52nd NCAA), assist-to-turnover ratio (2.4-1st C-USA/34th NCAA), field-goal percentage (.526-4th C-USA) and 3-point percentage (.446-2nd C-USA). Amber Landing is the top shot blocker (1.5 bpg-4th C-USA/117th NCAA).

King is seventh in C-USA for field-goal percentage (.510) and 12th in the league at the charity stripe (.791). As a team Southern Miss is among the C-USA leaders and national top 100 for field-goal percentage (45.0-1st/31st), assists per game (15.1-2nd/78th), steals per game (9.0-3rd/86th), rebound margin (+3.8-4th-90th), turnovers forced (17.2-4th/99th) and free-throw percentage (72.7-6th/89th).

The Lady Eagles have struggled with defending the 3-point shot (34.5-13th/307th), 3-pointers made per game (4.1-13th/318th), turnovers per game (18.3-14th/301st) and committing fouls (20.1-14th/319th). Notable Southern Miss alumni include Jimmy Buffett (singer, songwriter and actor), Brett Favre (three-time NFL MVP QB & future Hall of Famer) and Robert L. Stewart (former NASA astronaut).

LAST MEETING WITH SOUTHERN MISS (at Southern Miss 60, UTEP 53, 2/25/18)
Tamara Seda notched her 13th double-double (14 points, 13 rebounds) of the season but homestanding Southern Miss made a late run to clip the Miners, 60-53, in Hattiesburg on Feb. 25, 2018. The Miners led 50-47 with 6:14 remaining in regulation only to have the Lady Eagles close the contest on a 13-3 surge to hand UTEP its fifth straight setback.

Those losses have been by a combined 19 points. UTEP connected on 43.2 percent (19-44) to USM’s 41.1 percent (23-56) and easily controlled the boards (39-23) but the home side nailed nine 3-pointers and forced 24 Miner turnovers that led to 35 points. Seven of the giveaways came in the final 6:14 of the contest to fuel the USM comeback, including five straight possessions during the first three minutes of the sequence.

The Orange and Blue led for nearly 25 minutes, and were up by seven (47-40) late in the third quarter only to have the Lady Eagles rally. The game figured five ties and three lead changes. Jordan Alexander joined Seda in double figures with 10 points while four other Miners scored between six-eight points each.

USM was paced by a 22-point outburst by Megan Brown, including going 6-10 from distance. Shonte Hailes and Jayla King each netted 10 points.

UTEP stand 16-24 all time in conference tournament play (12-10 in C-USA; 4-14 as a member of WAC) … dispatched in the first round last year vs. ODU, 80-70, but hasn’t been one and done in consecutive league championships since joining C-USA … played in the quarterfinal round in nine of their previous 12 trips to the C-USA Championships; only three times to not compete beyond the first round (either with a first-round win or bye) was 2006, 2015 and 2017 … advanced to the league semifinals in four of the past six years, five times total since joining C-USA and eight occasions in program history (WAC- 1993, 1995 and 2004; C-USA 2008, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016) … played in the championship contest twice (2008 and 2012), winning it all in 2012 … seeded ninth for the third time (2003-WAC & 2011-C-USA) with a previous combined record of 1-2 in the situation … all seven returnees have competed at the C-USA Championships … Tamara Seda (20.0 mpg, 5.0 ppg, 4,3 rpg, 1.3 bpg and 0.7 spg-3 GP/1 GS) and Najala Howell (13.3 mpg, 5.7 ppg, 0,7 rpg and 1.0 apg-3 GP/1 GS) are making their third appearance in the event while it will be the second showing at the tourney for Faith Cook (6.0 mpg-1.0 spg-1 GP), Roeshonda Patterson (3.0 mpg, 3.0 ppg-1GP), Zuzanna Puc (16.0 mpg-6.0 ppg, 2.0 bpg-1 GP), Rachel Tapps (2.0 mpg) and Katarina Zec (24.0 mpg-2.0 ppg, 1.0 apg-1 GP/1 GS).