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WNIT Sweet 16 Preview: TCU vs. UTEP Miners

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Coach Melissa sat down with UTEP's excellent Miner Rush to talk TCU's big Sweet 16 matchup with the Miners.

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While there has been a lot of news and excitement surrounding the men's program, and rightfully so (DIXON!!!), in recent days, it's the women who continue to take care of business on the court. Led by seniors Zahna Medley and Veja Hamilton, and an excellent supporting cast, the Frogs will take on the Miners of UTEP Thursday night in El Paso as a member of the WNIT Sweet 16 field. This is the first meeting for the former conference foes since 2001, and the 15th overall. The good people of Miner Rush were kind enough to sit down with us and tell us what we can expect from what is sure to be a tightly contested and hard fought battle between two really good teams.

First of all, congratulations on the win against Arkansas State and advancing to the Sweet 16! The Miners have had a great season, only losing four games and going undefeated at home. What makes them so formidable on their home court?

Lots of gritty wins by our ladies so far this year! Its been a pretty magical season to cover, and taking care of business at home has been a main theme for the Miners.

Head Coach Keitha Adams has repeatedly said this year that her team is just very comfortable playing at home, and UTEP has developed a nice home crowd following with a core fan base between 2-3 thousand on a nightly basis who give the ladies a true home court advantage.

They turn you over on defense, finish fast breaks, and the crowd responds to their style of play which makes the Don a tough women's basketball atmosphere to crack.

After having such a good year, was there disappointment in not making the NCAA tournament? What do you think kept the team for the Big Dance?

Oh yeah, there's no doubt the disappointment of not getting an NCAA nod was very high.  Around the mid-way point of conference play it became pretty clear this team was a legit NCAA Tournament team, but as a mid-major your error of margin is razor thin.

In my opinion, the regular season finale loss to UTSA (200+ RPI) pretty much killed UTEP's shot at an at-large bid.  UTEP had cracked the USA Today Poll earlier that week, and a 3-loss UTEP team with an RPI in the mid-20's who at least made the C-USA Tournament Championship game figured to be a lock.

But UTSA took those hopes away.

Also throw in the fact that UTEP's handful of top-100 RPI wins came during conference play, and the Miners didn't have, nor schedule a possible out-of-conference "signature win" also hurt UTEP's resume.  They will pass the eye test, but we all know how both the men's and women's committees look at mid-majors in March if you don't take care business in the conference tourney. #MidMajorProblems

What is the fan support like on campus? Are the women's games events or afterthoughts?

The fan support has grown to new heights since the 2014 WNIT run, and UTEP fans get pretty jacked up about postseason play no matter what sport.

Women's basketball has became an event over the past couple of seasons as season tickets, interest, and overall exposure of the program has rose to unseen levels.   UTEP's recent run of women's basketball success started to take off back in 2008, with Keitha Adams deserving legend like respect posting a 118-42 record since 2011.

When Adams took over 15-years ago the program was a bottom feeder afterthought, and now its a yearly C-USA contender.

UTEP also does an excellent job of making their women's team visible to fans, and physically available for fans to meet, take pictures, and sign autographs after pretty much every home game.

You will see a ton of kids at every home game who have grown close to the team due to the face-to-face interaction UTEP allows their players to have with the young fans throughout the year.  Those kids' families in turn have become loyal season ticket holders and have helped build the program.

UTEP has used a minor-league baseball type approach to marketing and promoting the women's basketball program and it has certainly raised the fan support of the program.  UTEP sold out two WNIT games in 2014, so its safe to say they are a hot ticket in town right now in 2016.

I would imagine most Frog fans don't know a whole lot about the Miner program, so give us a quick primer: who are the names we need to know and what are the strengths/weaknesses of the roster?

First off this team is not your typical mid-major team, Frog fans will see/hear plenty of speed, athleticism, size, and flat out skill at the guard spot.

Senior guard Cameasha Turner who is from the DFW is the defensive catalyst, and also one of UTEP's most consistent offensive producers.  Her energy and leadership are anchors to this team's success.

The Miners overall strength is in the back court with point guard Starr Breedlove, and off-guard Jenzel Nash who are both electric athletes that can really fill it up, and are two of the quickest guards C-USA has to offer.  They can both shoot, drive, take your cookies on defense, and are walking highlights just waiting to happen.

UTEP is at its best when they are forcing turnovers and executing in the open floor, this team has a knack for forcing turnovers above the 3-point line, and boasts tons of depth to wear you down.

5'10 guard Sparkle Taylor comes off the bench and is a legit mid-range scoring threat, and has to be accounted for along with guard Lulu McKinney who can deliver from behind the 3-point line.  UTEP also has five girls six-foot or taller who can take up space in the lane, 6'4 post Tamara Seda has been a focal point of UTEP's halfcourt offense during this WNIT run.

Where UTEP struggles is in the half court as they are a streaky shooting team, so the key is to take care of the rock, and force UTEP to run an offense and make jump shots.

If there is one thing that is going to make or break the Miners this game, what is it?

Making shots or not making shots.

If the Miners struggle to score, their defense will keep them in the game.  But its been proven in the Miners four losses that playing from behind during a rough shooting night is tough to overcome, and I think TCU can cause those issues.

Nash and Breedlove are offensive keys in terms of good shooting nights, so if they are not hitting, UTEP will be searching for answers pretty quickly.

Both of UTEP's NIT games have been close, but each time the opponent has made a run, the Miners managed to fend it off. What is the team's secret to success as far as being able to win close games or hang on late?

All season long they have just found different ways to win, they've been in a number of close games that could have gone either way, but they make that game changing play down the stretch.
This squad just has the experience in the back court, and ability to get stops which really makes them tough to beat in my eyes.  They don't make costly mistakes down the stretch, and do all the little things like securing 50/50 balls, making free throws, and executing in the clutch that separates them from average teams who play well against them.

Its rare you will see this team beat themselves with the way they play defense, and with leaders like Turner, Breedlove, and Nash this team has IT, I guess you could say.

Lastly, a prediction: If UTEP wins, it's because/they....


Force 20+ turnovers, win the rebounding margin by +5, and have at least three score in double figures.

Sounds simple, but its been UTEP's formula for most of the season.

Or... If TCU wins, it's because/they did/did not....

Shoot well, protect the paint, miss free throws, and commit a boat load of turnovers.

Also keeping Zahna Medley in check could be another reason.

You can read our Q&A with Miner Rush here, and be sure to catch the game Thursday night at 8pm - you can stream it live through UTEPAthletics.com (subrscription required) or follow the gamecast on www.GoFrogs.com.