BOWLING GREEN, KY (KTSM) – Ariona Gill (19 points) and Michelle Pruitt (career-high 17 points) both had big scoring nights, but UTEP’s valiant comeback bid fell short in a 78-65 setback at WKU Thursday night.
The Miners (13-10, 6-6 C-USA) trailed by 27 (44-17) with 3:29 to play in the first half, but they made the Lady Toppers (17-7, 9-3 C-USA) sweat by fighting back to get within five (66-61) with 2:45 remaining in regulation. Included in that was an 11-0 run to close the first half, setting the stage for the second half. The Orange and Blue couldn’t complete the rally, with WKU doing just enough to hold on for the win.
“We dug ourselves way too big of a hole early,” UTEP head coach Kevin Baker said. “This team being this team, they fight back to get within five points in the fourth quarter. We expend too much energy, and we can’t get all the way back. The lights are pretty bright for our young kids early, but when they get in the flow of it they’re fine.”
Pruitt was a perfect 8-8 from the floor to post the seventh contest in program history with 100.0 percent shooting percentage (min. seven attempts). Gallegos added nine points, seven boards and four assists, while Zec had seven points and seven rebounds. Sabine Lipe pitched in seven points and four assists.
UTEP shook off a sluggish start to connect on 50.0 percent (28-56) from the floor, but it was hindered by committing 19 turnovers that led to 23 points for the home side.
WKU opened up the game by making 57.9 percent (11-19) to lead by 15 (26-11) through 10 minutes of action. UTEP held the Lady Toppers to below 40 percent in each of the final three frames, but WKU still finished at 42.9 percent (30-70) from the floor. It also did a good job against UTEP’s vaunted press, with the Orange and Blue forcing 12 giveaways.
UTEP was aggressive in getting to the hole, piling up 52 points in the paint compared to 36 by WKU, but ultimately the slow start to the game proved too much to overcome for Baker’s charges.
“These kids play their hearts out and they come up short because they dig themselves too much of a hole early,” Baker said. “It’s happening time and time again, and we’ve got to do something (different).”
There was lots of scoring early on, with the Miners trailing by two (9-7) three minutes into the contest. WKU ripped off 12 straight as part of a game-altering 35-10 run to put UTEP down by 27 (44-17) with 3:29 remaining in the first half. The Miners battled back by closing the half on an 11-0 surge to cut the deficit to 16 (44-28) heading to the locker room.
UTEP kept chipping away at the margin after the break, working within 11 (58-47) after 30 minutes of action. The Lady Toppers knocked down a triple early in the fourth quarter to go up by 14 (61-47), but UTEP responded by peeling off seven straight points to climb within seven (61-54). After WKU pushed it back out to 10 points, the Orange and Blue scored five in a row to clip the margin to five. It remained a five-point differential (66-61) with 2:45 left, but UTEP was unable to get any closer.
The Miners will continue a stretch of three straight on the road by playing at Marshall at 11 a.m. MT/1 p.m. ET on Saturday. The game will be streamed on CUSA.tv.