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UTEP cracks top 25 for first time ever

EL PASO, Texas -- The Texas-El Paso women have broken from
the shadow of the only men's team from Texas to win an NCAA title.

The Miners, winners of 15 straight games, entered The Associated
Press Top 25 for the first time in the 34-year history of the
program Monday at No. 24.

"It's just a great accomplishment," a beaming coach Keitha
Adams said. "It's been a lot of hard work. We've been knocking at
the door. The pieces of the puzzle fell into the place, and we're
happy to be here."

UTEP (19-2, 10-0 Conference USA) was 26th last week but moved
into the rankings after an 81-53 defeat of East Carolina on Sunday.

UTEP was on the other end of many of those routs six years ago,
when Adams' first team won three games. They were lucky to get 150
fans back then, Adams recalled with a smile Monday.

On Sunday, 7,003 people watched a game carried nationally on
ESPN2.

"It's hard to think about being in this point in time when you
first start out and you were 3-25," Adams said. "It's been a long
journey."

Adams said the ranking will help with recruiting and brings the
team one step closer to its goal: hanging a banner at the Don
Haskins Center.

Their home arena is named for the coach who changed history by
starting five black players for the first time in an NCAA
championship game and beating all-white and heavily favored
Kentucky for the 1966 title.

"The Don Haskins Center is a special place to play because of
the '66 men's team, but there's not a banner in there for women's
basketball," said senior guard Natasha Lacy, one of four leading
scorers averaging 11 or 12 points per game. "Coach made it clear
that this team is special. We have a chance to put a banner up."

The UTEP women have never qualified for the NCAA tournament, but
that's likely to change in about a month.

"We've just got to continue doing what we're doing," Adams
said. "It's hard work and just being focused on our opponent and
taking one step and one opponent at a time."

Up next is second-place Houston (14-10, 8-2), and a win would
put the Miners three games ahead with five regular-season games
remaining.

Lacy said she her teammates are staying focused.

"We just want to play in the postseason," she said.