UTEP Women's Basketball Stomps on Undefeated Denver, 80-49


POSTED: Saturday, November 26, 2011 - 7:41pm

UPDATED: Saturday, November 26, 2011 - 8:02pm

The UTEP women’s basketball team overpowered Denver, 80-49, in a clash of unbeaten squads at the Don Haskins Center Saturday afternoon.

Sophomore Kelli Willingham poured in a season-high 18 points to lead a quartet of players in double figures for the Miners (5-0), who are off to the best start of the Keitha Adams era and the second-best opening overall in program history. UTEP was up, 40-26, at the half and led by as many as 38 (80-42) at one point, with the Pioneers (4-1) unable to establish any rhythm.

“We had a great three days of preparation, and the ladies did a great job of executing the game plan,” Adams said. “Denver is a very good team, a veteran team. They play well together. It was a great win for us.”

UTEP drilled 43.9 percent from the floor (25-of-57), including a sizzling 53.6 percent (15-of-28) during the second half. The Miners sunk 11 three pointers, which rates tied for the seventh-highest single-game total in program history.

Willingham keyed the attack with 18 points and three helpers, with junior Kristine Vitola (13 points, seven rebounds), freshman Chrishauna Parker (10 points, four boards) and junior Melisa Mendes (10 points, four rebounds) buoying her. Sophomore Kayla Thornton pitched in eight points and 11 rebounds while Gloria Brown (nine points & nine boards) nearly notched a double-double in just 16 minutes of action.

It was aggressive play and good movement by the Miners, who nailed a campaign-best 19-of-27 at the free-throw line. The Miners were also all over the glass, out-rebounding the Pioneers, 51-31.

UTEP’s defense was also on the mark, limiting Denver to 30.8 percent (16-of-52) from the floor. Kaetlyn Murdoch enjoyed a solid game with 19 points and six rebounds, but no other Pioneer player had more than eight points. DU registered only seven assists while committing 20 turnovers, which led to 20 points for the Orange and Blue.

UTEP outdistanced the Pioneers, 25-6, in second-chance points, while also enjoying an advantage (31-17) in points from the reserves.

The Miners jumped out to an early 10-2 lead, with seven of the points coming on free throws. The two teams traded blows over the next several minutes before the second career three pointer by Brown afforded UTEP its initial double-digit advantage (17-7) of the game with 10:45 to play in the half.

The Pioneers whittled it down to seven but the Orange and Blue struck back with 10 straight points. Vitola hit a free throw, back-to-back triples and then Willingham capped it with another shot from distance. DU regrouped and ran off seven in a row of its own, but the Miners closed out the period strong to enjoy the aforementioned 14-point cushion.

The Orange and Blue continued their strong play in the second stanza, quickly establishing a 23-point lead. The Miners were just getting warmed up, though, with a solid move in the post by Brown making it 70-39 with 8:09 to play in regulation. DU continued to fight, but would get no closer than 30 from that point on.

UTEP will be back in action when it plays host to I-10 rival NM State at 7:05 p.m. MST Tuesday. The Miners are teaming up with Sonic for a ticket giveaway for the game, with all fans that go to their local Sonic in El Paso and make any purchase receiving one voucher that can be used to get in free to the contest.

The game will be the first of three “Grand Prize Giveaway Nights,” scheduled for the 2011-12 season. Fans will have the chance to put in a ticket into the random drawing in which they could win the grand prize-an iPad2- or one of several other premium items (i.e. gift cards, autographed jerseys and much more).

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