UTEP (1-2) faced its toughest challenge they may face all season long, as Pac-12 powerhouse Arizona (3-0) rolled over the Miners, 79-46, in Tucson on Wednesday evening.

Arizona caused 22 turnovers on the Miners and shot nearly 50 percent from the floor in their win, in which they never once trailed the Miners.

“We had opportunities and anytime you go on the road you have to take care of the basketball. We had some turnovers at costly times when we had a chance to try and make a game of it,” first-year UTEP head coach Rodney Terry said. “But I thought our guys kept competing, kept fighting and kept trying to do the things we’ve asked them to do.”

Here are three things we learned from UTEP's loss:

Second halves could hurt the Miners

In the first half, the Miners tried holding their own against the Wildcats, which was successful at times and didn't work at other points. UTEP started the game with freshman forward Kaosi Ezeagu, in place of Efe Odigie, and freshman guard Nigel Hawkins, in place of Kobe Magee.

UTEP hung with Arizona in the first, shooting 38 percent from the floor and 33 percent from beyond the arc. The Wildcats hit 45 percent from the field in the first half, but the Miners defended the perimeter well, only allowing Arizona to score 3-of-9 3-pointers.

But in the second half, the Miners could not get anything going. They racked up turnover after turnover and shot under 30 percent from the floor (29.2 percent) and 3-point range (28 percent).

UTEP only went with a seven-man rotation for the majority of the game, while forward Gilles Dekoninick played just six minutes of the game. It was obvious that the team hit a brick wall in the second half with no reserves to allow them to sit and adjust.

It could be this way all season long. The Miners will have to fight through second halves, no matter how they start the game. They have the conditioning to do so. Now they just need execution on both sides of the floor.

Scoring in stretches could become a problem

The Miners had its scoring machine in freshman guard Evan Gilyard through its first two games, where he put up 24 and 25 points, respectively. Last night Gilyard had a tough time creating his shot and finished with just four points. Arizona took him out of the game completely.

Freshman forward Efe Odigie led the way with a double-double against Arizona, totaling 13 points and 11 boards, while Paul Thomas had 14 points as well.

And scoring droughts or off nights might happen in some tough games or some manageable games for UTEP. The Miners will need to continue scoring by committee, as Terry beamed about earlier this season.

Guys like Ezeagu, who fouled out in just 12 minutes of play, Magee and freshman guard Jordan Lathon need to score more in order for the Miners to be competitive in these kinds of games. The three combined for just eight points on the night.

Not to mention 22 turnovers on the night--six from Hawkins and Thomas--was a huge problem for their offense.

But I digress. This is a young team that needs to learn how to score in stretches, which Terry doesn't seem to be worried about. Terry's focus right now is defensive execution, which he believes will translate to offensive efficiency.

Monday against Eastern New Mexico will be a test to see how the offense has progressed since.

Nigel Hawkins is the real deal

 

Freshman newcomer Nigel Hawkins made his debut last night for the Miners after being hurt with a right hand injury that held him out for about three weeks.

The Houston native's debut was full of high potential.

Hawkins, as a 6-foot-4 lengthy guard, helps give the Miners some size in their backcourt and can drive to the rim like an experienced college basketball player. His raw talent and athleticism makes him that much more fun to watch.

His six turnovers can be overlooked for a freshman's first game against a Pac-12 team like Arizona. Hawkins was 1-for-9 from the floor and got the majority of his points from the free throw line, but his ability to create his own shot was evident and shot execution will come as the season progresses.

“It gives you another guy in your rotation,” Terry said. “But it’s hard coming in with your first game playing Arizona on the road and [Hawkins] hasn’t played for three weeks. I thought he kept good poise, considering he hasn’t played. He came in and played against guys at 6-5, 6-6, every time you go to the basket. You’re challenged, there were no uncontested shots at the rim. So, I thought he did a nice job and he’s going to play his way through it and play his way back into playing shape.”

Hawkins started in place of Magee and I wouldn't be surprised to see him consistently start for UTEP.

Next up, UTEP will return to the Sun City to take on Eastern New Mexico in the Don Haskins Center, Monday, November 19 with a 7 p.m. tipoff.