Anete Steinberga posted a monstrous double-double (17 points, 16 rebounds), and UTEP used a 12-0 run over the final 1:47 to soar past Southern Miss, 60-55, in front of a season-best 4,501 fans at the Don Haskins Center Sunday afternoon.
Things looked bleak with the Golden Eagles (12-10, 4-5 C-USA) leading 55-48 with less than two minutes to play, but the Miners (18-4, 6-3 C-USA) were not done. Kayla Thornton, who also had a double-double (14 points, 11 boards), got the comeback started with a layup with 1:47 to play, and head coach Keitha Adams quickly called a timeout to set up a press.
What ensued was pure madness, with the Miners forcing three turnovers in a 25-second span. Steinberga had the first theft, and she then took it strong to the hoop. The shot rimmed out, but Chrishauna Parker, who finished with nine points, five assists and 11 boards, was there to tip it in and make it 55-52 in favor of Southern Miss with 1:35 to play.
Rather than call timeout, Southern Miss hurriedly tried to push the ball up the court. Thornton read it perfectly, picking off a pass by Jamierra Faulker. She then cleaned up Irene Gari’s misfire with one of the Miners’ 17 second-half offensive boards, and put it up and in to get her squad within one (55-54) with 1:22 on the clock.
With the visitors in complete panic mode, Parker came up with the final steal of the sequence. Adams wisely called timeout to set up a play for Steinberga. The senior got good position in the paint, delivering an old-fashioned three-point play to complete the wild sequence with the Miners suddenly leading, 57-55, with 57 seconds left in the contest.
The defense delivered four more stops, and UTEP connected on a trio of free throws to account for the final five-point margin of victory.
“We were struggling all day and down by seven in the last two minutes,” Adams said. “We got some big steals that led to some easy baskets. It was a gut check and we played hard until the very end to pull it out. It was a hard-fought game and a great win.”
While UTEP finished at 35.3 percent (24-of-68) from the floor, there were plenty of positives to take away. The Miners drilled 44.3 percent (13-of-29) in the opening half. They then drilled 5-of-8 over the first three minutes of the second half, which helped them extend the two-point cushion (31-29) at the break to eight (41-33) with 17:02 to play.
A drys pell ensued, but UTEP was able to position itself for the comeback through its work on the glass and also by limiting its turnovers. The Miners outrebounded USM, 52-37, while also enjoying advantages in points in the paint (30-20), off turnovers (13-5) and of the second-chance variety (13-5). They also had just 10 turnovers against a high-pressure defense.
Gari contributed 11 points, her second-best effort since the start of league play, while also grabbing five rebounds. Kelli Willingham pitched in 7 points and three assists, but more importantly did a good job of ball handling against constant Southern Miss pressure.
Southern Miss was led by Tanecka Carey (19 points) and Faulkner (17 points) but no other player finished with more than six points. It was limited to 35.7 percent from the floor (20-of-56), though it did nail 7-of-14 from three-point range.
UTEP will be on the road for a pair of games in the coming week. The Miners will play at Marshall at 5 p.m. MST Thursday while challenging UCF at 12 p.m. MST on Feb. 17.