The UTEP Women's basketball team will be traveling to Birmingham, Alabama on Tuesday to face Old Dominion in the first round of the Conference USA Championships.  The game will be aired live on 600 ESPN El Paso on Wednesday with Steve Kaplowitz at 8 p.m. MST.  UTEP enters the tournament as an 11th seed, and will take on 6th seeded ODU for the second time in less than a week as the two teams met in Norfolk,Virginia on March 2, with the Lady Monarchs getting the 87-68 victory.

The Miners concluded their regular season last Saturday with an 84-74 loss at Charlotte, but played much better in the defeat, often leading the contest and out hustling the 49ers on the glass.  If UTEP plays inspired basketball the way they did in their season finale, then they have a good shot of winning the rematch against ODU.

Keys to victory for the Miners are to distribute the ball as they did at Charlotte, where every player scored throughout the evening, and control the offensive rebounds to get second and third opportunities to score..  Had it not been for a poor fourth quarter shooting performance and being out rebounded in the final period, the Miners would have surely won in Charlotte.  Coach Keitha Adams noted that the team needs to play a complete game, if they do that, they can hang in there with any one.

Photo by Brandon Cohn

All-Conference second team player and leading scorer Sparkle Taylor must also step up her game.  She struggled at Charlotte by only scoring 6 points, which was 12 less than her season average.  Prior to her mediocre performance against the 49ers, Taylor had scored 27, 24, 23, 34 and 34 points in her previous five games.  Tamara Seda must also step up her game in order for the Miners to get the victory.  Seda, a dominate low post player, scored 13 points against ODU last week in Norfolk, and had 14 rebounds in 7 games this season.

Seda must make her easy shot attempts when she is wide open under the hoop, continue her rebound frenzy and use her 6-4 frame to defend around the paint and in the low post.  Coach Adams mixed up her starting lineup a bit at Charlotte by inserting Najala Howell in place of Zuzanna Puc, an effective move as Howell tallied 11 points and 6 boards against the 49ers.

Lulu McKinney must play up to her full potential as well in this game as she scored 10 points in their meeting last week.  The Miners will need to get all of the new comers involved in order to get this victory, as only Sparkle Taylor, Lulu McKinney, Naj Howell and Tamara Seda have experience playing in the C-USA Championships.  Defensively UTEP will have their work cut out for them as they face the daunting task of stopping ODU's Jennie Simms, the second leading scorer in the nation, who had a monstrous game against the Miners with 30 points and 7 boards last week.

UTEP will have to find a way to contain Simms, and Destinee Young as well who scored 14 points to go along with 14 rebounds against the Miners.  UTEP has all the intensives in the world to win this game because ODU knocked them off in the semifinals of the C-USA Championships last season, hence ending the top seeded Miners' dream of completing their incredible season with an NCAA Tournament appearance.

Old Dominion Women's basketball team. (Photo by Brandon Cohn)

There is no doubt that this will be a tremendous challenge for UTEP, as Old Dominion is a seasoned program, which is just one of 8 in the country to have won more than 1,000 games, has 22 conference championships, 25 NCAA Tournament appearances, and 3 National championships.  However, as Coach Adams said following the loss at Charlotte, "we can flat out play, we proved it tonight against a great opponent, we have to forget every thing that has happened in the past and start out fresh in the C-USA Tournament."

Without question, this team has a tremendous amount of talent, and now must put it all together in order to defeat ODU and move on in the tournament.  The best part about post season play in college basketball is that any one has a chance; it's time to prove that this is the UTEP Women's basketball team's time to shine now that every thing is on the line in Birmingham.