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El Paso, TX — Fueled by a huge second half (42-16), the UTEP women’s basketball team dispatched upset-minded Northern Colorado, 63-40, at the Don Haskins Center Wednesday evening.
The Bears (2-3) led by three (24-21) at the break before the Miners (5-0) came alive on both ends to steamroll them over the final 20 minutes to secure the third straight and fourth overall start of at least 5-0 to a season. They previously achieved the feat in 1996-97 (7-0), 2011-12 (10-0) & 2012-13 (5-0).
Additionally UTEP has now won four straight games by 20+ points for the first time since the 2006-07 season and the third occasion overall. The school standard is five, which occurred in the 1976-77 campaign and then was equaled in 2006-07.
Senior Kayla Thornton (21 points) and sophomore Irene Gari (14 points) led the charge offensively for the home side, which connected on 46.6 percent (27-of-58) of its shots. Junior Chrishauna Parker added nine points while sophomore Jenzel Nash buoyed Gari’s spark off the bench with eight.
Thornton also contributed to the defensive efforts with six of the Miners’ 16 steals while fellow classmate Kristine Vitola contributed six points, four rebounds, four blocked shots and three assists in 26 minutes of action.
The Orange and Blue limited the visitors to 27.5 percent (14-of-51) while forcing 30 turnovers, which led to 36 points. The Miners outscored the Bears in the point (42-16) and on fast-break tries (15-2) to more than compensate for losing the rebounding battle 46-31.
“It was not a very good rebounding day and we are fortunate to get the win,” UTEP head coach Keitha Adams said. “We know that we have to play better. We were half asleep and not very sharp mentally. It was not a very good night but we fortunately got the win.”
There was a sluggish start to the game, with both sides struggling to knock down shots. A good dribble-drive and kick by Cameasha Turner set up Gari for three, and she drilled it to give the Miners a 9-5 lead with 12:03 to play in the period.
To their credit the Bears had an answer, which came in the form of a 14-0 run over the next six and a half minutes. Rebecca Howell, who paced UNC with 15 points, capped the sequence with a long three pointer glass to make it 17-9 at 5:30 of the first half.
UTEP pushed the ball up the court immediately, working it inside to Vitola for an easy score to end the drought. Back-to-back buckets by Thornton made it a two-point game (17-15).
The visitors extended the advantage out to five on a pair of occasions but Thornton’s steal & lay-up with five seconds to play in the stanza made it a three-point deficit (24-21) heading into halftime.
The two sides traded buckets over the first six minutes of the second period, and the Miners’ lead was just two (32-30) with 14:14 to play in regulation. Adams’ charges soon found another level, however, with a 12-0 run in a little less than four minutes sealing the Bears’ fate.
Nash started the surge with a triple, assisted by Vitola. Thornton followed with a steal and coast-to-coast lay-up before another layup, this time by Parker. Gari then put a bow on the series, with an offensive rebound and putback and a trey to make it 44-30 with 10:30 to play.
The Bears got a bucket from Molly Duehn to momentarily halt the run, but UTEP counted with 12 straight points to put it away for good. The advantage swelled to 25 on a couple of occasions, and Adams was able to empty her bench down the stretch.
The Miners will wrap up their season-opening six-game homestand when they play host to Texas State at 7:05 p.m. MST Saturday. Tickets are just $5 for adults and $3 for kids.
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