Senior Anete Steinberga tallied a game-high 21 points to lead five Miners in double figures but UTEP couldn’t keep pace with an up-tempo UCF squad in a 89-77 setback in a Conference USA Women’s Basketball semifinal at the BOK Center Friday morning.
The Miners (22-10) led 47-44 with 17:27 to play before Steinberga picked up her third foul. She subbed out and the Knights (16-17) took advantage of her absence with a 12-0 run that resulted in the game’s 10th and final lead change. UTEP tried to battle back, but it was unable to trim the deficit to any closer than five (60-55, 11:26 second half).
UTEP bows out of the C-USA championships having registered its second straight and fourth overall 20-plus win season. The Miners, who boast wins over three of the top four seeds in C-USA this year in addition to a trio of triumphs against power-conference schools, will now wait for a potential at-large bid to the WNIT.
Kayla Thornton poured in 18 points to lift her career total to 1,016. She is the second Miner (Steinberga) in as many days to reach the milestone and the ninth overall in the 39 years of the program’s history.
Cameasha Turner (12), Kelli Willingham (12) and Chrishauna Parker (10 points, 12 rebounds) also reached double figures while Irene Gari rounded out UTEP’s scoring with four points.
UTEP connected on 44.1 percent from the floor and hit 17-of-21 free throws but it simply had no answer for the Knights’ high-octane attack. They became the first Miner opponent in 75 games to surpass 50.0 percent (31-of-59, 52.5) from the floor while tallying the most points against UTEP since the 2002-03 campaign (L, 54-108, 2/27/03).
All six Knights who scored in the game reached double figures, including 18 from C-USA Freshman of the Year Briahanna Jackson. The Knights also had a 37-30 edge in rebounding and a 34-24 advantage for points in the paint.
The two teams traded the game’s first 42 points and with her team trailing 28-27, Sara Djasi sparked a 9-0 run with a jumper to put UCF ahead 36-28 with 5:03 to play in the first half. The Miners answered with a 7-0 run to cut the deficit to one 2:11 later and outscored the Knights 8-4 over the final two and a half minutes to go into the locker room on top, 43-40.
The advantage remained three (47-44) in the early stages of the second half before the Knights were able to take control of the contest.