Junior Kayla Thornton poured in a career-high 29 points while Anete Steinberga added a season-best 22, and UTEP raced past Texas State, 88-81, at the Don Haskins Center Saturday evening.
The Miners (6-1) trailed the Bobcats (3-3), 46-41, at the half before coming on strong over the final 20 minutes to post their sixth victory in seven tries this season. The effort keeps them undefeated at home on the year (4-0) while also improving their record to 23-2 in the month of December in El Paso since 2006.
The game featured seven lead changes and 10 ties but UTEP played with composure throughout and was rewarded with a 7-0 run in the final minute of the game. Chrishauna Parker started it with a lay-up off an offensive rebound before Kelli Willingham drilled the Miners’ lone three pointer of the night with 28 seconds left. Thornton capped the surge, while also essentially icing the game, by sinking two free throws with 11 seconds to play.
“Texas State has a nice team,” UTEP head coach Keitha Adams said. “I’m proud of our team for getting this win tonight. Close games are always good when you win, and it was a nice win for us. Now we need to get ready for New Mexico State Wednesday. We need a big crowd to help us for the game.”
UTEP used good ball movement throughout the game, evidenced by a campaign-high 21 assists to just 12 turnovers. The Miners drilled 44.4 percent (32-72) of their shots while also taking care of business at the free-throw line by going 23-of-27 (85.2). UTEP connected on just 1-of-11 from beyond-the arc, but the one make couldn’t have been bigger.
While the Bobcats (3-3) finished at 42.9 percent (30-of-70) from the floor, they were held to just 35.3 percent (12-of-34) during the decisive second half. Four TSU players reached double figures in scoring, with Diamond Ford leading the way with 25. Ford had to heave up 21 shots, though, with the Miners making her work for everything she got.
There was a frantic pace to the game from the onset, with the two teams combining to score 50 points in the first 10 minutes of action. TSU never trailed in the opening frame, but the Orange and Blue did a good job of not letting the visitors extend their advantage to more than seven.
The Miners battled back several times and eventually tied it at 30. After TSU regained the lead, the Orange and Blue also pulled even at 37-37 and 39-39. The Bobcats closed out the period on a 7-2 push to grab a 46–41 lead at the half, but UTEP would respond.
Adams and her staff made some great adjustments at the break, and Texas State couldn't sustain its hot shooting over the final 20 minutes.
Once the Miners got the stops they needed, it was just a matter of time before they took control.
UTEP rattled off a 14-7 run to turn a 64-59 deficit with 10:26 play into a 73-71 lead with 5:12 play. Texas State managed to tie it four times after that point, but the Miners had an answer every time. The home side took the lead for good on Parker’s second-chance bucket before Willingham’s trey gave them a five-point cushion (84-79) with 28 seconds left.
The Miners erased any chances of a wild comeback by drilling four free throws in the final 11 seconds.
UTEP will return to action when it plays host to I-10 rival New Mexico State at 7:05 PM MST at the Don Haskins Center Wednesday. It will be the first of three grand–prize giveaway games, with one lucky fan winning an iPad. Several other premium prizes, such as an autographed woman's basketball jersey, will be given away.