By UTEP Zay 

When former Franklin graduate Katia Gallegos announced she would be leaving the UTEP women's basketball team this summer after being the centerpiece of the team for the past 3 years, head coach Kevin Baker knew that it was time for a new look roster. Coming off a 17-8 record in the 2020-2021 campaign, most fans expected the Miners to go out and contend for a conference championship. With key pieces such as Gallegos, Destiny Thurman, and Avery Crouse back, along with transfers Teal Battle and Mahri Petree, the hype around this team was something fans hadn’t felt since the Keitha Adams era.

As the non-conference season progressed, that Miner team look like a conference championship contender. The Miners were 8-2 going into conference play, but their momentum didn't last long. UTEP would go 6-12 in conference play, the second-worst mark in the Kevin Baker era. That team lacked chemistry on the court and the fact that their two leading scorers were both ball-dominant guards didn’t help. The rough season  ended with a loss to a UTSA team that the Miners had previously beaten 8 straight times. It was a frustrating year for most Miner fans, and one that I assume coach Baker and his staff want to put behind them.

The Miners saw 5 players hit the transfer portal following the season, including their two leading scorers. They also lost senior leader Teal Battle to graduation. It was time for a new era in UTEP women's basketball, and Baker would not shy away from bringing in newcomers, no matter what rank of basketball they came from.

A look at the newcomers and returners 

UTEP brought in 8 new players to the roster, which included high school players, JUCO players, international players, and D1 transfers. The solo high schooler is Mater Dei guard Soleil Montrose. The 5’10 combo guard held offers from Hawaii, LBSU, UC Santa Barbra, and LMU, but chose to commit to the Miners. She is someone the coaching staff expects to play a lot and fits the role of a big guard, something that Baker loves to use. The JUCO transfers are Tyler Junior College guard Veonce Powell and Seward CC guard Zhane Thompson. Powell averaged 14 points per game while shooting almost 50% from the field, and an astonishing 43% from three. Powell brings in the ability to shoot as a spot-up or to create a shot with the ball. She doesn’t need the ball to be a successful scorer, which is something that the Miners were missing last season. The bulk of the new players on this team come from the transfer portal. The Miners bring in 4 D1 transfers, including 3 that Miner fans are awfully familiar with.

Sabine Lipe played for the Miners for 3 years before she transferred to North Colorado. During her time with the Miners, Lipe was a role player and learned the system Baker ran. She averaged a little under 4 points a game during her 67 games as a Miner. Some fans may remember Lipe as someone who excelled at being in the right place to take a charge. It appears that she rounded out her game and developed a more consistent shot over the off-season, so it should be fun to see how a senior veteran who has played in this system before performs this year.

Jazion Jackson was a 3-year starter at UNT before transferring to UTEP, including 65 straight starts to end her career. The Dallas native had season-high 19 points against the Miners, ironically. She brings a little bit of everything to this group. She can hit the occasional jump shot, get into the lane, dish it out to a teammate, and create shots for both her and the team. She is going to be a key to this Miner team that hopes to rebound from last season. She is a great defender and will rack up steals. She is a physical guard and is not afraid to go up and get a board, as she was third on UNT in rebounds last season. Look out for Jackson as she will most likely be the starting point guard to start the year.

Perhaps the biggest splash for Baker and his staff this year was going out and getting Oklahoma State transfer guard N’Yah Boyd. Boyd actually played for North Texas and was teammates with Jackson before transferring to Oklahoma State last year. Boyd averaged 9 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists in her final year at North Texas. She also had 4 games of over 22 points and 14 with double digits points. She is a talented scorer who can get a bucket when called upon. She could be the x-factor to UTEP season.

Thaniya Marks stands at 6-1 and brings height to a smaller UTEP frontcourt. She averaged 5 points and 3 rebounds a game while at Georgia Southern last year. Marks is someone who excels on the defensive side of the ball, as she had 14 steals and 8 blocks in only 14 contests last year. It should be fun to see how Baker uses her this year, but she will no doubt strengthen UTEP’s presence down low.

The Miners were able to keep some big pieces from last year's team, which includes Elina Arike, Mahri Petree, Erin Wilson, Eliana Cabral, Avery Crouse, and Grace Alvarez. Arike enters her third year as a Miner but is only considered a freshman. Since her first year here, she has gained a lot of playing time and is a consistent player for the Miners. Last year we saw her get a consistent jumper, along with becoming more of a scorer down low. She averaged 8 points and 6 rebounds last year, along with starting in every game she played in last year.

Mahri Petree was a Bradley transfer who made the MWC All-Freshman team in 2020. She didn’t make much noise early in the year, but as the season progressed, she got better and eventually was one of the best players on this team. She only averaged 5 points per game last season but put up 10 points per game in her 5 starts. She also had double-digit games in 3 of the final 6 games last season. She will be someone to watch out for, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see her lead the team in scoring this year.

Avery Crouse has played 83 games for the Miners in her career and has started all but one of those games. She is a consistent player for the Miners and always shows up to play. She knows this team and system inside and out. She is entering her junior year, and the Miners will need the G/F to step up not only on the court but as a leader off the court too. She is a seasoned veteran of this program and will need to help keep this team together as the season goes on.

Erin Wilson was a role player last year, but she is an excellent defender for the Miners. If she can get a consistent jump shot, she will be someone who plays a lot of minutes for the UTEP. The Jacksonville transfer averaged 4 points and 3 rebounds last year.

Eliana Cabral was someone who is a part of the long line of international recruits UTEP brings in. After a year at NMJC, Cabral transferred to UTEP. She played in 25 games and started in 4 of them. She put up 3 points per game but will be expected to take a step up as a senior. She has one of the better jumpers on this team and is a very solid defender.

Grace Alvarez was only a freshman last year but proved to be one of, if not the best shooters on this team. She went 3 for 3 in the scrimmage against WNMU and 2 for 3 against UNO. She will be one of the best shooters on this team.

UTEP Athletics
UTEP Athletics

Miners open with 83-55 win against New Orleans 

This is a new look team that fits the Kevin Baker play style, and we saw that on Monday when the Miners opened the year up with a dominant 83-55 win over New Orleans.

Petree and Cabral combined for 39 points in the win, with Petree leading the way with 24. Jackson played 29 minutes and put up an absurd 6 steals and 8 assists. Arike put up 12 points and 5 boards in the win.The Miners pressed much of the game, and it paid off. They forced 33 turnovers and scored 42 points off those turnovers. The team also provided answers to some of the questions we had with this team before the season started.

One big question was, can they shoot? Well, the Miners went 8-20 from the three-point range, which is a solid mark for them.  Alvarez looks like the best shooter on this team, and she will be a huge piece for this team as the season goes on. The sophomore from Houston went 2-3 from deep. Lipe also supplies shooting to this team, as she also went 2-3 from deep. The Miners finally have players who can shoot off the ball and hit shots in the corner if they’re open. That is something that this team lacked last year was a true off-the-ball shooter. The trend for the Miners this year will be scoring in bunches. They went on an 18-2 run after being down 23-19 as halftime approached.

The Miners like to fluster opponents with their full-court press, and they did just that on Monday. Jackson and Petree are athletic enough to keep up with anyone in the backcourt, which makes UTEP so successful when pressing. The IQ these players have is off the charts, and they know how to get into the passing lanes. This is a fun, up-tempo, defensive-minded Miner team that you will love to watch.

Up next, UTEP has a trip to Kansas City this Sunday to take on the Roo’s at 1 pm, then return next Wednesday to the Don Haskins Center to take on in-state rival Texas Southern. I see this team being a conference contender, as they are talented on both sides of the ball. Once N’Yah Boyd is healthy and ready to go, this could be a very scary team.

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