El Paso Times
What the UTEP women's basketball team did last week in winning at Tulsa and dispatching Conference USA contender East Carolina to reach 14-1 was impressive, but some results that flew under the Miners' radar were probably what fueled a big jump in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll.
While UTEP steadily held course, six teams that were right in front of them in the poll -- Nebraska, Miami, Vanderbilt, DePaul, Toldeo and South Florida -- all lost and the Miners suddenly gained some critical mass. The Miners, who had just three points in the poll last week (likely three 25th-place votes, though coaches ballots are not made available) and were in 32nd, suddenly have 22 points and are in 28th.
The upshot is that if the Miners beat UAB this Sunday, there is at least some chance they'll be ranked by next Tuesday.
Specifically, three teams within their reach have games against ranked opponents: No. 22 Iowa State (12-2) plays at No. 17 Oklahoma State Sunday, No. 23 Syracuse (15-1) plays at No. 3 Connecticut Saturday and the team right ahead of UTEP, 14-2 Michigan, hosts No. 8 Penn State on Monday.
No. 24 Florida State, No. 25 Colorado and the top team in the "others receiving votes" category, 12-5 Nebraska, all have games in which they will be favored.
Always focused UTEP coach Keitha Adams admitted she knew where UTEP was by Tuesday afternoon.
"Someone called me and told me, that made me think about it," she said. "It is what it is. It's a positive, no question, anytime you get national recognition. But that's not the goal, that's not what we are focused on. UAB is what we are focused on."
"Rankings are good, but we can't let that get to us," Kayla Thornton said. "We've got to keep pushing forward."
Indeed, that would be enough to do it. If UTEP keeps winning, it will be ranked at some point. AFter UAB is a road trip to play the two Houston teams next week, followed by a Jan. 31/Feb 3 homestand against Tulsa and SMU.
If UTEP wins those five games, it almost certainly will be in the Top 25.
Getting ranked "is something to look forward to, we'd like to be recognized for our hard work, but it's not something we worry about," Chrishauna Parker said.
A look at the six teams directly in front of UTEP and what they have this week and next week (next polls come out Jan. 22 and Jan. 29):
No. 22 Iowa State (12-2)
Sunday at No. 17 Oklahoma State (13-2)
Jan. 23 vs. No. 1 Baylor (14-1)
Jan. 26 at West Virginia (11-5)
No. 23 Syracuse *15-1)
Saturday at No. 3 UConn (15-1)
Jan. 23 at St. John's (8-6)
Jan. 26 at Villanova (13-2)
No. 24 Florida St (13-3)
Jan. 17 at Boston College (8-7)
Jan. 20 at North Carolina State (8-9)
Jan. 25 Georgia Tech (8-8)
Jan. 27 Virginia Texh (7-9)
No. 25 Colorado (13-2)
Jan. 18 vs. Arizona (10-5)
Jan. 20 vs. ASU (10-6)
Jan. 25 at No. 7 Cal (13-2)
Jan. 27 at No. 6 Stan (14-2)
Nebraska (12-5, 52 poll points)
Jan. 17 vs. Illinois (9-7)
Jan. 20 at Minnesota (13-4)
Jan. 24 Michigan St. (14-2)
Michigan (14-2, 27 points)
Jan. 17 at Norwthwestern (8-8)
Jan. 21 vs. No. 8 Penn St. (13-2)
Jan. 24 at. Indiana (10-6), Iowa (13-4)
UTEP (14-1, 22 points)
Jan. 20 UAB (11-4)
Jan. 24 at Rice (9-6)
Jan. 27 at Houston (7-8)
Perhaps lost in the comeback against East Carolina was the last basket of the first half, which came on Anete Steinberga's first 3-point attempt of the season and resulted in her first 3-point make since her freshman year.
That cut UTEP's deficit from a season-high 11 points at 35-24 to eight, and actually started a nine-point run.
It improved her to a career 2-of-12 from 3-point range, but as she was quick to point out, 1-of-1 this season.
"I'm not shooting (3s) any more, I'm keeping my 100 percent," Steinberga said.
UTEP is off to its second 14-1 start, as it was 14-1 in 2006-07 before a loss at SMU sent it to an eventual 22-8 record. In the NCAA tournament year that followed the Miners started 4-2 before winning 23 consecutive games, and last season the Miners lost back-to-back games after a 10-0 start.
They have a nine-game winning streak and are seeking the fifth streak of 10 or more games in program history. UTEP had two of those last year -- the 10-game streak to start the year and a 15-game winning streak after the two losses.
Despite UTEP's dominating 2011-12 season, the 13-player rotation kept the Miners from making much of a mark in the weekly awards. This year's UTEP team has already exceeded last year's in that regard.
Steinberga became the third Miner to win player of the week honors on Monday, joining Kristine Vitola (Nov. 12) and Kayla Thornton (co-player on Dec. 17). Irene Gari was freshman of the week on Dec. 10.
Last year, Gloria Brown was named player of the week on Jan. 9 and Feb. 20, the only weekly honors UTEP claimed. It was shutout on freshman of the week honors.
Bret Bloomquist may be reached at email@example.com; 546-6359. Follow him on Twitter @bretbloomquist.