Senior Kristine Vitola notched her first career-double double (21 points, 12 rebounds) to help UTEP pound Loyola Marymount, 79-51, in the 2012-13 season opener for both squads at the Don Haskins Center Saturday afternoon. Juniors Kayla Thornton and Kelli Willingham buoyed Vitola with 15 points each while six other Miners (1-0) also scored in the contest.
UTEP took control early thanks to Thornton. She scored the first 10 points of an eventual game-opening 15-0 run, a sequence the Lions (0-1) could never recover from. The Miners, who led by 21 at the break (45-21), pushed their advantage out to as many as 35 (64-29, 11:12 second half), before putting it on cruise control down the stretch.
“Our starting five came out and set a great tone for us for the day,” UTEP head coach Keitha Adams said. “We have a lot of areas we have to continue to improve upon but today it’s a positive day. I’m happy with how we came out of the gates.”
In addition to it being her initial double-double since joining the Orange and Blue, Vitola also set career standards for points (21) and boards (12). She hit on 10-of-11 free throws, also personal bests. Willingham did most of her damage from beyond-the-arc with three of the Miners’ seven treys.
Freshman Cameasha Turner (six), sophomore Syerra Davis (six), junior-college transfer Destiny LaFountain (five) and freshman Irene Gari (five) also had some good moments on offense in the game. Sophomore Chrishauna Parker pitched in four points while also grabbing seven rebounds.
UTEP connected on 42.2 percent (27-of-64) of its shots, aided by 50.0 percent (16-of-32) during the dominant first half. The Miners registered 11 assists in the contest, with Parker (four) and Willingham (three) leading the way in that department.
LMU was unable to find its rhythm on offense, with the Miners’ size forcing it into shooting 27.7 percent (18-of-65) from the floor. The visitors were at 23.3 percent (7-of-30) in the first half before getting up to 31.4 (11-of-35) in the second half.
The Miners also forced the Lions into 21 turnovers, which led to 21 points.
Thornton hit back-to-back threes to get the offensive going for the Orange and Blue before she nailed a couple of shots from the post to cap her 10-point surge to start the game. Willingham then drilled a trey, followed by a lay-up from Parker to make it 15-0 with 16:17 to play in the period.
Alex Cowling, who paced LMU with 14 points on the day, got her squad on the board with a free throw to halt the sequence. The Miners answered with a 10-4 push, making it 25-5 with 10:40 to play in the half.LMU countered with a 5-0 spurt but the Orange and Blue answered again.
UTEP extended the edge back out, and carried the aforementioned 45-24 lead into the locker room.
The Miners made sure there would be no LMU comeback by using a big start to the second stanza. UTEP outscored the Lions, 14-2, over the first six minutes of the period to make it 60-26. The advantage swelled to 35 a few minutes later, and LMU never got closer than 28 down the stretch.
UTEP will continue its season-opening homestand by playing host to Houston Baptist (7:05 p.m., Nov. 16) and Pacific-12 power Arizona State (2:05 p.m., Nov. 18). It will be Boys And Girls Scouts Night against HBU, with free admission to members by wearing their uniform or showing their ID. The game against Arizona State will be highlighted by all kids getting in free. Otherwise, tickets will be $5 for adults and $3 for kids.