Kelli Willingham's potential go-ahead three pointer from the right wing was blocked with seven seconds to play, allowing Arizona State to creep past UTEP, 47-45, inside Wells Fargo Arena Wednesday evening.
It was a back-and-forth defensive battle, with seven ties & nine lead changes. The Miners (10-2) trailed by four (47-43) with 1:20 remaining in regulation but held the Sun Devils (9-2) scoreless down the stretch to give themselves a chance at a comeback.
Kristine Vitola, who had a career-high 11 rebounds, converted an lay-up on an offensive put-back to pull UTEP within two (47-45) with 20 seconds left. The Miners then fouled Kali Bennett, who missed the front end of a one-and-one free-throw. Glroa Brown, who posted a double-double (10 points & 12 rebounds) grabbed the board.
The ball eventually ended up in the hands of Willingham, who was poised to give her squad the lead, only to have home side survive thanks to Micaela Picken’s registering ASU’s seventh blocked shot of the contest.
“I’m really proud of our effort,” UTEP head coach Keitha Adams said. “We played hard but just came up a little bit short. Our defense was excellent. We just needed to be better offensively.”
Both teams turned in dominant defensive efforts. The Miners shot 32.7 percent (17-of-52) from the floor while the Sun Devils finished at 32.1 percent (18-of-56). There were a combined 35 turnovers, including 16 by ASU.
Brown paced UTEP with 10 points, while Willingham pitched in six and Anete Steinberga and Ryah Lacy chipped in five each.
Another positive from the contest was Whitney Houston making her anticipated debut following a lengthy recovery from a knee injury. The senior transfer from Colorado played two minutes in the second half.
Kimberly Brandon led the Sun Devils with a double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds) while Deja Mann and Alex Earl contributed eight points and six points, respectively.
ASU won the rebounding battle, 44-40, and had an edge of 17-6 in second-chance points. The Miners’ bench out-scored ASU’s reserves, 29-12, and UTEP had a 22-20 advantage in points in the paint.
The Orange and Blue jumped out to an early 4-0 lead on back-to-back buckets by Steinberga before the Sun Devils countered with a 12-2 surge on the way to grabbing the largest lead (12-6) for either team in the contest.
UTEP regrouped nicely with an 11-3 run over the next several minutes, and the Miners were up, 19-17, with 3:30 to play in the first half following a jump shot by Syerra Davis.
ASU struck back and responded to grab a 24-20 lead late in the period. A long Lacy triple beat the buzzer, and trimmed the deficit to one (24-23) heading into halftime.
The two teams traded buckets for most of the second stanza, with neither able to grab a lead of greater than four. The Miners were up, 39-35, with 7:55 to play but ASU ran off five straight points to regain the lead.
UTEP would tie the tilt two more times after that but could never get back ahead.
The Miners will look to bounce back when they wrap up non-conference play at home against Texas State at 2:05 p.m. MST on Saturday.