POSTED: Sunday, February 5, 2012 - 4:28pm
UPDATED: Sunday, February 5, 2012 - 11:44pm
Tenacious defense and a big second half from senior Gloria Brown proved to be the right combination to keep UTEP undefeated in Conference USA play following a hard-fought 45-41 victory at Rice Sunday afternoon. Overall it marks the 10th straight triumph for the Miners (20-2), who have become the third team in program history to reach the 20-win plateau.
Brown scored 14 of her game-high 16 points in the second stanza, including six straight to break a 37-37 tie with 4:49 to play. The Owls (11-12, 5-5 C-USA), who managed just two field goals in the final five minutes, never got closer than four after the 6-0 surge.
UTEP held Rice to just 25.9 percent from the floor, and won the battle of the boards, 46-41. Aiding that was a 25-15 rebounding advantage over the final 20 minutes, during which UTEP out-scored Rice, 25-20.
Jenzel Nash tallied eight points and grabbed eight rebounds in her second straight start, while Kim Smith, Anete Steinberga and Kayla Thornton all chipped in five points. Kristine Vitola had two points but secured eight rebounds and also blocked a pair of shots.
The Miners took good care of the basketball, committing just 12 turnovers, while tallying 24 points in the paint and nailing 75.0 percent (9-of-12) at the free-throw line. They were challenged to make shots at times, finishing at 27.0 percent (17-of-63) but compensated for that through a steady dosage of Brown and quality team defense.
The field-goal percentage is the second lowest in a win in school history, while the 45 points scored equal the second fewest in a triumph. Additionally, the Miners are now 3-1 on the road this year when falling shy of 33.3 percent from the floor. They had lost 41 straight in the situation dating to the 1996-97 campaign.
Jessica Kuster (11 points, eight rebounds) and Brianna Hypolite (10 points) led the way for the Owls, who were harassed into 15 turnovers.
UTEP’s bench out-scored the Owls’ reserves, 18-9, and the Miners also enjoyed an advantage (13-6) in second-chance points.
Rice jumped out to a 5-0 lead, but the Miners countered with an 8-3 run to forge the first of nine ties during the tilt. The two teams traded blows over the next several minutes, with neither managing an advantage of better than three.
The Owls carried a 21-20 lead into the locker room. It was back-and-forth for most of the second period, before a 6-0 push gave the Miners a 37-31 lead with 8:33 remaining in regulation. The home side struck back with six consecutive points of its own, but UTEP would get it done down the stretch.
The Miners will return to action when they play host to Marshall at 7:05 p.m. MST Thursday. All kids will get in free to the contest, which is the first of two straight at home.