The women of the UTEP move up a gear and rout the Incarnate Word at the opening

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The first games of women’s college basketball are rarely won with flash and glare.

The formula is grind and grit, force a raft of turnovers and win the boards.

For half of UTEP’s comfortable 81-47 win over Incarnate Word, that’s how the Miners took a nine-point lead at halftime.

They saved the flash and dazzled for a breathtaking third quarter, which they won 26-9, which set the bar very high for them.

UTEP's Katia Gallegos goes to the basket against Incarnate Word on Thursday night at the Don Haskins Center

How did it happen

An early 15-point run gave the Miners an 18-4 lead that never escaped. The Miners did so despite missing 11 of their first 12 shots when they were already 8-4 ahead.

That’s because UTEP forced 25 turnovers, passed the Cardinals 38-29 and gave themselves plenty of time to sort out their offense. When the miners fixed the problem, a great advance turned into a rout.

Leading 37-29 at halftime, UTEP filled in the statistics sheet in a third quarter that will serve as a touchstone to its potential. The Miners opened it up with an 11-3 run to go up 17 and stretched it from there, ultimately securing their second-biggest opening win over the Division I competition.

What they said

Coach Kevin Baker, still the coach, praised the defense.

“We were very out of the system in the first half, off balance, not ourselves,” Baker said of a half where UTEP shot 37%. “Thank goodness we relied on our defense to get started, lots of turnovers and points in transition. That in turn helped us play better in the offensive in the half court.

“I was mostly happy with our defense. Anytime you can keep anyone at 47 points, a Division I team, you keep them at 47 points, you’ve done a really good job.”

Senior transfer Teal Battle kicked off his UTEP career by leading the miners through tough stretches in the first half, ultimately scoring 16 points and adding nine rebounds.

“The plan was to execute the defense, to have great rotation and great communication,” she said. “That’s what we did, we’re performing really well.”

Goalkeeper Destiny Thurman said, “By pushing, they preach it to us a lot, our defensive pressure, communication and rotation helped us until we started attacking.”

The stars of the game

UTEP’s best players in the first half were Battle and Thurman, who each went to the locker room with 12 points. In his career debut as a miner, Battle missed a double-double watching most of the fourth quarter with 16 of five points on seven shots and nine rebounds. Thurman finished with 16 points.

Katia Gallegos missed her first seven shots, but contributed with four assists in the first half, then warmed up to help UTEP put the game out of reach in the third quarter. She finished with 12 points, five assists, four rebounds and three steals.

Eliana Cabral made her UTEP debut with 10 points on four out of four shots and has found herself on the highlight reel several times.

Strong points

Despite the theme of the game, there were some spectacular streaks for UTEP in the third quarter when the Miners walked away.

Leading 52-33, Gallegos stole the ball halfway and pushed it towards Cabral. Cabral had a reasonably open layup but returned it to Gallegos for the wide open basket.

Cabral took in the karma soon after. On the UIW’s next possession, Gallegos again stole the ball into midfield and shoveled it over his head blindly and perfectly to Cabral. Cabral pushed him past Brenda Fontana and this time Fontana let a reasonably open layup pass to return it to Cabral, who hit the gimme to bring the score to 56-33.

UTEP shot 63% in the third quarter and 61% in the second half to end the game at 48%.

Following

The UTEP turns around and welcomes North Dakota at 1 p.m. at the Haskins Center on Saturday.

Incarnate Word has a few extra hours to make the trip to Interstate 10, as it picks up the state of New Mexico at 5 p.m. on Saturday.

Bret Bloomquist can be reached at 915-546-6359; bbloomquist@elpasotimes.com; @Bretbloomquist on Twitter.



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