Buoyed by freshman Irene Gari’s career-high 19 points and stifling defense, UTEP pounded I-10 rival NM State, 66-44, at the Don Haskins Center Wednesday evening. The Miners (7-1) bolted out to a 36-14 lead at the half before putting it on auto pilot over the final 20 minutes against the Aggies (5-3).
The effort avenges the Orange and Blue’s lone loss on the season, (69-68 at NM State, 12/1/12) while also keeping them undefeated at home this year (5-0). UTEP has won 20 of its past 22 in El Paso, and stands at 87-16 in the Sun City since the start of the 2006-07 campaign.
“We played much better defensively in the first half. I don’t know if we guarded as well in the second half but our defense was much improved,” UTEP head coach Keitha Adams said. “It was a good win for us.”
The game was tied 4-4 early on before UTEP ripped off 13 straight points to take control for good. The run was part of a 31-6 surge to close out the first half. The Miners defended with tenacity throughout the tilt, keeping the visitors to the third-lowest field-goal percentage by an opponent (20.5) in program history.
UTEP was particularly ferocious in the opening 20 minutes, with the Aggies connecting on just a pair of field goals on 17 tries (11.8 percent).
Gari led the way for UTEP with the aforementioned 19 points, 15 of which came in the first half. Kelli Willingham and Anete Steinberga each added nine for the Miners, who shot 37.5 percent (24-64) for the game. The three-point shot was a big factor, with UTEP nailing 8-of-19 from beyond-the-arc.
The home side also pounded the Aggies down low, enjoying an advantage of 24-8 for points in the paint. UTEP controlled the glass as well, with a +16 margin (49-36) on the boards.
It was a different story for the Aggies, who couldn’t get on track offensively without the services of injured starters Stefanie Gilbreath and Kelsie Rozendaal. NM State finished with just nine field goals made, only two of which were treys. Danesha Williamson (13 points) and Jasmine Rutledge (11 points) led the way.
Things would have been worse for the visitors were it not for a quality effort at the charity stripe. The Aggies accounted for 24 of their 44 points in the game on free throws, concluding the contest at 24-of-34 (70.6).
It was a sloppy game at times with the two teams combining for 49 fouls and 41 turnovers. The Aggies’ 22 giveaways resulted in 23 points for the Miners.
UTEP will cap its three-game homestand when it plays host to Eastern New Mexico at 4:30 p.m. MST Saturday.