El Paso, TX — Kayla Thornton (20 points), Chrishauna Parker (career-high 19 points), Jenzel Nash (14 points) and Irene Gari (10 points) all reached double figures in scoring to help power UTEP to an 80-61 road conquest of I-10 rival New Mexico State Tuesday evening.
The Miners (7-0) have equaled the second-best start in school history while also completing the sweep of the I-10 rival Aggies (3-5) for the sixth time during the Keitha Adams era.
All seven wins this year have been by double figures, a program first.
UTEP, which is receiving votes for both the Associated Press & ESPN/USA Today Coaches’ Top-25 polls, led by four (39-35) at the break before finding another gear to leave NM State in its dust.
The Miners forced 24 turnovers in the game, including 17 alone in the dominant display in the second half. NM State never found its rhythm on offense, finishing at 38.0 percent (19-of-50) from the floor.
UTEP had no such issues, committing only 12 turnovers while nailing 42.6 percent (29-of-68) of its shots. The Miners also hit their free throws (20-of-26, 76.9%) and won the rebounding battle (39-34).
“In the second half I thought defensively we really set the tone,” Adams said. “The full-court press helped changed the tone of the game. We played hard, and it was a good team win for us.”
UTEP jumped out to a 6-2 lead before the Aggies countered with a 5-1 push to forge the first tie of the tilt (7-7) with 15:52 to play in the period. Nash then started to heat up, sparking a 9-2 run over the next three minutes to stake UTEP to a 16-9 cushion.
The youth-laden Aggies responded well to the deficit, accounting for 10 of the next 12 points to secure their first and only advantage in the game (19-18) with 9:24 left in the half. It was short-lived, though, with a Nash jumper reinstating the lead for the visitors.
As it turned out, the Miners would never relinquish it. A late bucket from Sasha Webber allowed the Aggies to claw within four (39-35) at the half but Adams and company had a plan for the second stanza.
It came in the form of a lethal full-court press, which gave the Aggies fits. The Miners forced five turnovers in the first five minutes of the period, which led to easy baskets and helped them secure a double-digit advantage(50-38, 16:27 to play).
NM State tried to rally and cut the deficit down to nine (59-50) with 8:27 to play but UTEP delivered the knockout blow with seven straight points. Kristine Vitola converted a lay-up off a feed from Gari while the sophomore then sunk a long two and a trey.
UTEP extended its lead to as many as 22 before settling for the 19-point triumph.
The Miners will be back in action when they play host to SMU at 4:30 p.m. MST Saturday. The game is a part of a double-header with the UTEP men’s team (vs. Sacramento State, 7:05 p.m.), and all fans who buy a men’s ticket will receive free admission to the match-up against the former WAC & C-USA rival Mustangs.