El Paso, TX — Senior Kayla Thornton tallied 23 points while grabbing seven board to become the school’s all-time leading rebounder and fellow classmate Kelli Willingham added 18 points (on six threes) to propel UTEP to an 85-76 road conquest of UAB at Bartow Arena in the Conference USA opener for both squads Wednesday evening.
The Miners (12-2, 1-0 C-USA) drilled 41.3 percent of their shots (26-of-63) from the floor, including 9-of-18 (50.0 percent) on triples, to hand the Blazers (8-6, 0-1 C-USA) just their second home loss in seven games this year. Making free throws (24-of-27) and winning the rebounding battle (43-31) were also big factors, especially with the way UAB was clicking offensively.
Karisma Chapman and Chelsee Black each netted 26 points for the home side, which connected on 45.3 (29-of-64) of its tries from the floor. UTEP held the rest of the team in check, though, while also enjoying a 20-6 advantage on second-chance points and a 20-11 margin in bench scoring.
Chrishauna Parker (12 points, eight rebounds) and Kristine Vitola (10 points, three boards) also were impact players for the Orange and Blue, which won its league opener for the fifth straight year. The Miners also moved to 7-2 in the situation since joining C-USA.
It was also a historic night, with Thornton’s seven rebounds giving her 815 for her career to surpass former Miner great Kim Watts’ prior standard (810, 1978-81) for most in school history.
Thornton also owns the program record for career double-doubles (28) while ranking second all time in scoring (1,284).
UTEP jumped out to an 11-2 lead five minutes into the game, with Thornton & Willingham combining for nine of the 11 points in the surge. The advantage remained nine (13-4, 14:04 left first half) before the Blazers struck back. The counter came in the form of a 16-6 push over the next five minutes to give UAB its first lead of the game (20-19).
The Miners had an answer, however, scoring the next 15 points to regain control of the contest. The cushion was 1 at the break (42-32) and UTEP remained in control in the second half.
The Blazers continued to battle, but could never get the deficit down to less than seven. Anytime UAB made a run, UTEP had an answer. The Blazers tried to extend the contest down the stretch by fouling, but UTEP foiled that strategy by taking care of business at the free-throw line.
The Miners (12-2, 1-0 C-USA) will play host to Tulsa in their C-USA home opener at 1:30 p.m. MST Saturday. Fans can gain free admittance by presenting a ticket to either the men's game on Thursday or Saturday.