BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – A Karris Allen jumper from the free throw line gave WKU the lead for good with 25.9 seconds left as the Lady Toppers downed UTEP 62-59 on Thursday night inside E.A. Diddle Arena.
Prior to the Allen basket, the Miners (19-9, 12-7 C-USA) had taken a one-point lead, their first of the night, at 59-58 following a Jazion Jackson baseline drive. Jackson’s aggressiveness resulted in a foul and a pair of free throws that she would hit with 31.2 seconds remaining.
The Lady Toppers (16-12, 13-6 C-USA) withstood three UTEP offensive possessions after taking the lead on the ensuing possession, including forcing a turnover with 13 seconds left and escaping with the win despite two shot attempts by the Miners in the final five seconds.
It was an impressive effort by UTEP to erase what was a nine-point lead for WKU at the start of the fourth.
Two runs over the final 10 minutes brought the score tight, with Jackson rattling off a 5-0 stretch of her own to start the final stanza and the Miners then scoring nine straight to even the contest at 57-57 over a 2:45 period of the game late.
“I was just really impressed with our team going from being down 10 points and then coming back in the fourth quarter to go ahead with 30 seconds to go,” UTEP Head Coach Kevin Baker said. “I was just so impressed that they had the character to do that. We were one stop away from winning the game. Unfortunately, they hit a big shot. We had a shot to win it ourselves, it just didn’t go in.”
Getting things going from beyond the arc helped to kickstart the comeback, as Jackson banked in a triple to make it 52-48 and Avery Crouse connected on a shot from distance of her own from the right-wing following a drive and kick by N’Yah Boyd to force a WKU timeout with the score 57-51.
Shortly after, Crouse returned the favor with a steal before finding Boyd driving to the basket for a layup to chop the lead to two at 57-55 with 3:24 left.
Sabine Lipe would tie things up at 57 by connecting on both free throws that resulted from a technical foul on the WKU bench.
“If you would have asked me before the game started if we had a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter, I would have taken it,” Baker said. “I don’t really walk out that disappointed. Nobody likes to lose, but we put ourselves in a position to win the game, and I just don’t think you can ask more of your team than that.”
Erin Wilson had a quality offensive showing to keep UTEP in it, scoring nine of her 11 points off the bench in the first half. Wilson went 5-of-10 from the floor with five rebounds.
Jackson was the high scorer for the Miners with 13 points and a team-high eight rebounds.
Boyd contributed 10 points.
Both teams shot 37.3 percent on the night, with UTEP going 19-of-51 overall and WKU 22-of-59.
The Lady Toppers averaged 29 attempts on 3-pointers entering the game, with the team living up to that billing on Thursday, going 12-of-33 (36 percent) from downtown.
Success at the free throw line played a key role in the Miners keeping things close, with UTEP finishing 18-of-20 (90 percent) at the stripe and WKU 6-of-17 (35 percent).
Both teams grabbed 36 rebounds.
In a rarity, the game featured a buzzer-beating shot at the end of three of the four quarters. WKU had Josie Gilvin bank in a 3-pointer from just inside half court to end the first and Hope Sivori beat the buzzer to cap the third. Lipe went coast-to-coast for a layup to cut the deficit to 39-34 entering the locker room.
UTEP ends the regular season on Saturday at 1 p.m. MT/2 p.m. CT at No. 24 Middle Tennessee.
The Conference USA Championships will follow starting next Thursday at a time to be decided. The Miners will know their opponent following the action on Saturday. UTEP will be either the No. 3 or No. 4 seed with a bye into the quarterfinals.
“This is a confident group,” Baker said. “I think the good thing about them is that they know they can beat any team in Conference USA. They have proven that. We don’t know where we’ll stand or who we’ll play or anything like that, but right now, I don’t think the opponent matters much. I think we are playing some really good basketball. We were two points away from having won six in a row, and today, we were three points away from extending that steak. We are in every game and always have a chance to win. As a coach, I love that.”