EL PASO, Texas –Ariana Taylor, Avery Crouse and Ariona Gill all tallied 11 points, but UTEP fell to league-leading Rice, 69-61, at the Don Haskins Center Thursday evening. It is the first C-USA setback at home for the Miners (11-6, 4-2 C-USA), who battled but ultimately saw the Owls (12-6, 7-0 C-USA) post their 26th straight win against Conference USA competition.
Gill added a team-high eight rebounds to nearly finish with a double-double despite playing only 16 minutes due to being plagued with fouls. Katia Gallegos stuffed the stat sheet with five points, seven rebounds and five assists. Katarina Zec pitched in nine points and five rebounds.
The Miners forced 21 turnovers and won the boards, 42-39, but it wasn’t enough to compensate for finishing at 33.3 percent (23-69) from the floor. Rice’s 13 blocked shots, including nine alone from 6-9 Nancy Mulkey, impacted UTEP’s shooting percentage. Another factor was UTEP finishing 10-18 at the charity stripe (55.6 percent) compared to the Owls going 20-28 (71.4 percent) at the line.
It was a game of runs, with UTEP using a 7-0 push early in the fourth quarter to get within four (52-48). Rice countered with nine straight points, and the Miners were unable to get closer than six the rest of the contest.
“We put ourselves in a position to win,” UTEP head coach Kevin Baker said. “Some things didn’t go our way after we cut it to four, but I really enjoyed watching our team fight back. We’re just not quite there yet, but we’re getting closer. This young team is learning how to battle in Conference USA.”
Reigning C-USA Player of the Year Erica Ogwumike paced Rice with a double-double (21 points, 13 rebounds). Mulkey added 10 points and eight rebounds, in addition to her nine swats.
UTEP had a quick start, banging home two triples in 30 seconds to grab a 6-2 advantage. It was back-and-forth the next couple of minutes, with the Miners leading by one (10-9) with 5:12 left in the first quarter. Rice started to tighten things up defensively, which allowed it to close the quarter on an 11-3 push to put UTEP down by seven (20-13) through 10 minutes of action. Gill was sldelined during most of the run due to picking up her second foul early on.
After Rice jumped out by nine (22-13) with 6:17 left in the first half, the Miners started to mount a rally midway. Gallegos drilled a triple, which was followed by a Michelle Pruitt fastbreak lay-up to cut the deficit to four (22-18) at 5:30 of the frame. The Owls countered with a 6-0 push, putting UTEP down 10 (28-18) with 2:53 to play. UTEP trailed by nine (30-21) heading into halftime.
Rice led by 11 (52-41) with 9:15 to play in regulation before UTEP ripped off seven straight points in the blink of an eye to cut the deficit to four. The Owls called timeout and managed to counter with a 9-0 push, and UTEP never got closer than six the rest of the way. UTEP will wrap up its three-game homestand against North Texas at 1 p.m. MT Saturday.