EL PASO, Texas – UTEP built a double-digit lead early in the fourth quarter and fended off a late LA Tech flurry to win 72-66 on Saturday afternoon in the Don Haskins Center.
The Miners (10-3, 3-1 C-USA) shot a blistering 47.6 percent on 3-pointers on the way to drilling a season-high 10 to top the Lady Techsters (9-6, 2-3 C-USA).
A pivotal stretch of the game occurred in the first half and was made possible largely due to the efforts of the UTEP bench.
Trailing 24-16 early in the second quarter, the Miners would even the game at 25 thanks to a 9-1 run that was bookended by a Sabine Lipe 3-pointer.
Lipe’s triple marked the start of a span of 7:17 to end the half where the reserves would tally the final 14 points entering the break to push UTEP to a 36-33 lead.
It was a strong effort for Lipe, who posted eight points, two rebounds and a steal in 10 minutes.
At the half, the Miners had a 16-3 edge over LA Tech in bench points.
“Without our bench we would have been in deep trouble,” UTEP Head Coach Kevin Baker said. “We were in foul trouble, and they (LA Tech) had momentum. Erin Wilson is on the floor diving for loose balls, Sabine is hitting shots and they are doing what they do. I am really proud of our bench for producing when we needed them. Eliana Cabral is in pain every five minutes, but she is out there battling her rear end off, and we could not have done it today without that group for sure.”
Wilson had a pair of steals off the bench.
Out of the locker room, the starters would take over, netting all 36 points in the second stanza.
The visiting Lady Techsters did make two surges in the final two quarters though, starting with a 6-0 run to go up 39-36 early in the third.
As has been the case all season, the Miners punched right back, rattling off nine straight points to build a 45-39 lead. To end the run, Jazion Jackson strung together the final seven points.
UTEP leading scorer N’Yah Boyd was kept without a basket until there was 1:28 on the clock in the third, sinking a 3-pointer right after Avery Crouse had hit one of her own to make it 51-42 in favor of the Miners.
The nine-point lead remained intact entering the fourth, a quarter which Boyd would start to assert herself. Over the final 10 minutes, she put together eight points, highlighted by a pair of 3-pointers over the first 2:28 of action.
A pullup triple for Boyd on the first possession of the fourth opened up a 56-44 UTEP lead that would be the largest of the day.
LA Tech continued to fight though, with Keiunna Walker registering nine of her 24 points in the final 10 minutes.
Trailing 64-53 with 3:39 remaining, the Lady Techsters capitalized on back-to-back perimeter makes by Lotte Sant and Walker to get right back in the thick of things. Eventually, the UTEP lead that had seemed so secure was down to just two at 68-66 with 10 seconds on the clock.
It was Walker with the basket to cut it to two, driving baseline and battling through some contact before getting a friendly roll on her attempt in the lane.
On the ensuing possession, UTEP inbounded the ball to Elina Arike, who connected on both of her free throw attempts to make it a two-possession game.
Salma Bates would not be able to get the ball inbounded for LA Tech after the Arike freebies, resulting in a five-second call that would be the nail in the coffin for the Lady Techsters.
Four players reached double figures for the Miners, led by Jackson with 15 points and five rebounds. Boyd, Crouse and Adhel Tac each contributed 11 points. Boyd had five assists and Tac hauled down a team-high eight rebounds.
“I feel like we were kind of underrated coming into conference, and I feel like we are proving ourselves each and every game,” Jackson said. “I feel like we are putting fear in people’s hearts in our conference, so they see us now.”
In the win, UTEP forced LA Tech into 22 turnovers while outrebounding the visitors 30-25.
“Our game plan today was to guard them on the perimeter and when they drive, don’t foul them, and make them kick it out to shooters,” Baker said. “If they are shooting 3’s they are not shooting layups, and they are also not shooting free throws, and that was sort of our game plan today.”
“We were just trying to get in the passing lanes and be there to help when we needed to be,” Tac said. “Just stopping the drive when we needed to be there.”
From the floor, the Miners were 23-of-55 (48 percent). At the stripe, UTEP went 16-of-18 (89 percent). LA Tech capped the game 22-of-41 (54 percent) overall and 9-of-15 (60 percent) from beyond the arc. The Lady Techsters were 13-of-16 (81 percent) at the line.
“Every game in Conference USA is going to go just like that one right there,” Baker said. “It’s going to be close. Every game is going to come down to the end. Every game is going to come down to timely shots, big rebounds, big defensive plays, exactly like this one did. I’m really proud of our team for getting this win. It was hard-fought. We worked awfully hard this week preparing for them, so I’m glad to see that our team is getting some payoff for the hard work that they put in.”
The Miners travel to San Antonio to play at UTSA on Wednesday at 6 p.m. MT/7 p.m. CT.