Kayla Thornton posted her fifth double-double of the season (23 points & 12 boards) and Anete Steinberga navigated through foul trouble to add 18 as the UTEP women’s basketball team toppled Tulsa, 71-64, on the road in the Conference USA opener for both squads Wednesday evening.
Thornton scored 16 points in the first half, including drilling one of her five three pointers in the contest as time expired, to afford the Miners (13-1) a five-point lead (32-27) at the break. UTEP extended that advantage to as many as 12 before withstanding several charges by the Golden Hurricane (5-9) to lock up its eighth straight victory.
The effort also keeps the Orange and Blue on pace with the 2006-07 squad for the best start in program history. UTEP can equal the school standard (14-1) when it plays host to East Carolina at 2:05 p.m. MST Sunday.
“Road wins are great wins,” UTEP head coach Keitha Adams said. “We gutted it out, and it’s a great win for us. Tulsa competed and played extremely hard. We won the boards and that was really important.”
Willingham and Chrishauna Parker each added seven points while Saidah Zuberi Allen pitched in six. Willingham buoyed Thornton on the boards with a career-high nine while Parker had six and Zuberi Allen secured five.
The Miners outrebounded TU 44-33, including 23-13 during the second stanza.
UTEP connected on 42.6 percent (26-of-61), aided by a readout of 48.4 (15-of-31) during the second half. It registered 17 helpers and scored 32 points in the paint.
Tulsa could never find its rhythm on offense, finishing at 37.5 percent (21-of-56) from the floor. The home side made 18 turnovers, which led to 15 UTEP points. Taleya Mayberry had 21 while Kadan Brady and Tiffani Couisinard each added 14 in the losing effort.
The Miners’ defensive efforts allowed them to compensate for an off night at the free-throw line (13-of-23, 56.5 percent).
After a couple of scoreless trips for each side, Thornton got things going with a triple. Steinberga followed with a pair of free throws to give UTEP a 5-0 lead with 17:21 to play in the first half. Fouls quickly became a factor with both Steinberga and Parker picking up two.
Tulsa took advantage, managing to grab the lead (25-23) with a little less than five minutes left in the stanza. UTEP regrouped and finished the period on a 9-2 run, with buckets by Zuberi Allen, Madden and Thornton.
The Miners played with ample composure in the second stanza, countering every push by Tulsa with a surge of their own.
UTEP will kick off its two-game homestand against the Pirates on Sunday. There will be a free kids’ clinic (8th grade & below) following the contest. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for kids.