EL PASO, Texas – Seniors Katarina Zec and Ariona Gill each scored 16 points to pace a quintet of players in double figures, but Middle Tennessee used a barrage of 3-pointers and drives to the basket to slip past UTEP, 92-80, at the Don Haskins Center Saturday afternoon.
The Miners (14-12, 7-8 C-USA) led by nine (15-6) early on in the contest, but once the Lady Raiders (18-9, 10-5 C-USA heated up the visitors were able to come back to spoil UTEP’s upset bid. MT nailed 12 three pointers, compared to four from UTEP, while shooting 47.8 percent overall (32-67) to shoot past the Orange and Blue.
UTEP was a solid 41.4 percent (29-70) from the floor, but just 4-19 (21.1 percent) from 3-point range. UTEP tried to compensate for that by winning the boards (44-41) and forcing 19 turnovers, but MT’s fire power was too much. Anastasia Hayes (24 points) Aislynn Hayes (20 points), Alexis Whittington (20 points) and Taylor Sutton (15 points) combined for 79 points to lead the way for the visitors. Whittington did the majority of her damage from 3-point range, connecting on six of the team’s 12 treys.
Yet in spite of that, the Orange and Blue trailed by four (81-77) with 4:38 remaining in regulation after a jumper from Zec. MT responded by closing the contest on an 11-3 run to stem UTEP’s rally bid.
Freshman Katia Gallegos filled up the stat sheet with 10 points, seven assists and six rebounds while Avery Crouse (13 points) and Sabine Lipe (11 points) also hit double figures in scoring.
Gill led the charge on the boards with a game-high tying nine rebounds, while Gallegos and Zec each secured six. UTEP did a solid job at the free-throw line by nailing 78.3 percent (18-23).
“I thought we played well today against a very, very good Middle Tennessee team,” UTEP head coach Kevin Baker said. “We simply could not slow them down. We could not stay in front of them. Their penetration really hurt us. We’ve got to do a better job guarding.”
After the two sides traded 5-0 runs to start the contest, UTEP unleashed a 10-1 surge to lead by nine (15-6) with 3:38 left in the opening frame. MT countered by wrapping a 18-4 run around the quarter break to vault out by five (24-19) with 7:08 left in the first half. The Orange and Blue had an answer, striking back to regain the lead by one (34-33) late in the stanza, only to have MT use a 9-2 sequence to go into the locker room up by six (42-36).
UTEP responded in the third quarter, fighting all the way back to pull even at 56 with 2:35 to play in the frame. MT regrouped and was able to reinstate a six-point cushion (66-60) through 30 minutes of action. The Miners continued to battle down the stretch, but both times they cut it to three in the fourth quarter Whittington nailed a 3-pointer. UTEP then inched within four only to have the visitors go on a game-closing 11-3 push.
“We’ll fight on,” Baker said. “I’m more pleased than I am displeased. For the most part, we played well enough to win.”
UTEP will be idle for a week before playing host to Southern Miss on “Senior Day” at 1 p.m. MT on Feb. 29.