EL PASO, Texas - Irene Gari had the hot hand Wednesday night scoring a career high 19 points as she led UTEP to a 66-44 win over I-10 rival New Mexico State in the Don Haskins Center.
"She was in the gym today and during shoot around I walked in and she was just draining them and draining them," head coach Keitha Adams said. "I looked at her before the game tonight and told her 'Just do what you did this afternoon' and she did."
Coming into the game, Gari had shot 8-for-41 from the field and had only made two 3-point shots. She made three in the first half.
"We have been working on defense and have been playing really well," Gari said. "On offense, the shots were being knocked down and I was very comfortable on the attack … I am more comfortable and confident in myself."
UTEP (7-1) finished the night shooting 24-for-60 from the field and went 9-for-19 from the field. Many of the outside shots opened up because of New Mexico State's decision to protect the paint.
"One of the things (NMSU) really focused on was swarming and really congesting the paint, focusing on Anete (Steinberga)," Adams said. "We haven't shot the three-ball really well as a team so it was really helpful tonight having Irene knocking down some shots."
For most of the first half, the Miners were able to control the pace of the game. They limited NMSU's to a couple of field goals and 10 points in free throws. UTEP went into the half with a 36-14 lead.
The Miners cooled down in the second half and NMSU (5-3) surged back before the game became a contest between the officials as to who could call the most fouls. By the end of the game, both teams combined for 42 fouls with most of them coming in the second half.
Despite the referees, UTEP's defense was able to withstand the Aggie shooting barrage and avoided a second-half collapse similar to last week's game in Las Cruces.
"I reminded them (at halftime) we were up 17 up at their place at one time," Adams said. "In the first half we were up 17 and didn't come home with the win. I thought there were a lot of little things that I felt we could work on. We need to set better screens on the defense. A lot of times we were not really going to our spots. We were pretending we are screening but we really were not."
"We played much better defensively in the first half, I don't know if we guarded as well in the second half, but our defense was much improved," Adams said.
Danesia Williamson finished the game with 14 points for the Aggies and Jasmine Rutledge added 11 points.
New Mexico State did not have the assistance of Stefanie Glbreath who was averaging 13.8 points per game and 5.2 rebounds.
"When they came and told me she and (Kelsi Rozendaal) weren't playing I was really disappointed to be honest," Adams said. "We had really put a lot of work in all week, planning on them. We've experienced losing two players but you just have to adjust and move forward."
UTEP will next play in a men's-women's basketball double header Saturday afternoon when they take on the Zias of Eastern New Mexico at 4:30 pm in the Don Haskins Center. The men's team will play afterwards at 7 pm against Idaho.