What Would It Take to Salvage the UTEP Women’s Basketball Season
UTEP women's basketball head coach Kevin Baker is not used to losing. In fact, only once in his 20-plus years of coaching basketball has he ever had a losing season. In 2000, he went 5-22 at Nacogdoches High School. Two years later, they set the single season school record for wins with 30.
Baker is now facing similar adversity in his second season as head coach of the Miners. His team has lost seven games in a row, including an 89-61 blowout at home last Sunday against Portland State. At this point, he is searching for answers and how to turn his season around before conference play starts in San Antonio on January 5th.
"If you look at our next few games, we are going to have to play a better brand of basketball," Baker told 600 ESPN El Paso after Sunday's loss to Portland State. "Usually when kids are faced with no choice, they usually respond. Every morning I get to work at 7:15 and I roll the basketballs out. When I go home at 7:30 or so, I roll them back in. Now, it's up to these kids to take those basketballs off that rack and shoot them; on their own when nobody is watching. The popcorn is not popping, the music is not playing, and there's no fans in the stands. The only way you're going to change is if you get in the gym and shoot the basketball."
Here are three things that could help turn around UTEP's season heading into conference play next month.
1. Play their best players regardless of position. After nine games, it has become increasingly evident that the Miners will struggle at the point guard position. Sophomore Jordan Jenkins and junior Neidy Ocuane have not yet stepped up to assume the starting point guard role on a regular basis. If you take a close look at this team, the best players currently would consist of Zuzanna Pucs, Katarina Zec, Ariona Gill, and Jordan Alexander. There is a big drop off after these top four. Junior college transfers Alexa Hoy and Jade Rochelle have both struggled at times, but Miner fans have to hope that one of them emerges as a reliable option on both sides of the ball. Freshman Ariana Taylor is also intriguing.
2. One of their top four players assume a larger leadership role. In Coach Baker's first season, Tamara Seda was a dominant force on both sides of the ball and clearly their leader. Sophomore Najala Howell also had the ability to take over games on offense. Unfortunately for the Miners, Seda graduated and Howell transferred to New Mexico.
3. Give Taylor more minutes. At six-feet tall, Taylor has assumed a strong role in the post coming off the bench in limited minutes. One thing she does possess is fire and intensity. The Miners need that. Badly. If Taylor's passion can rub off on the rest of the team, UTEP could turn things around in a hurry.
Things will not get any easier for the Miners. They play at Arizona (8-1) next Monday before challenging Western Illinois (3-8) and Akron (5-2) next Thursday and Friday in Las Vegas. A December 29th road game against Tulsa (5-5) proceeds three conference road games to begin 2019. In fact, UTEP's next home game is Thursday, January 17th against UAB. A lot will happen open the next five weeks. Hopefully for Kevin Baker and his Miners, it's plenty of team bonding on the road and a chance to contend again in conference.