Zec eclipses 1,000 career points in UTEP win over Charlotte

UTEP

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – Ariona Gill posted a monstrous double-double (career-high 25 points, career-high tying 14 rebounds), Katarina Zec scored 13 points to surpass 1,000 career points and Katia Gallegos (13 points) and Sabine Lipe (career-best 12 points) also hit double figures in scoring as UTEP outlasted Charlotte, 82-76, in overtime at the Don Haskins Center Thursday evening.

The Miners (13-8, 6-4 C-USA) raced out to a 17-point (38-21) first-half lead only to have the 49ers (14-7, 5-5 C-USA) strike back to take a four-point advantage (64-60) with 1:50 to play in regulation. UTEP didn’t flinch, peeling off seven straight points to pull back ahead by seven (67-64) with 27 seconds left. After Charlotte tied the game with a triple from Octavia Jett-Wilson with 22 seconds remaining, both sides got defensive stops to send the contest to OT.

Each team connected on a triple on its opening possession of OT before UTEP kicked it into high gear. The Miners ripped off 10 straight points over the next three minutes, effectively putting the contest away. Charlotte made a push with six consecutive points to get within four (80-76) with 32 seconds left, but a pair of UTEP free throws iced the tilt.

“It was a gutsy performance by our team tonight,” UTEP head coach Kevin Baker said. “I’m really impressed with how we handled the momentum shifts in that game, the ups and downs, the highs and lows. We built a lead, we lost the lead and we built the lead back again. We fell down by (four) in the last two minutes, but hit big shot after big shot.”

UTEP wrapped a 26-11 run around the first-quarter break to stake the aforementioned 17-point advantage (38-21) against the 49ers with 3:40 to play in the opening frame. Charlotte tallied the final six points in the quarter to trim UTEP’s margin to 11 (38-27) at the half. The 49ers continued to chip away at UTEP’s advantage, eventually moving ahead for the first time with under two minutes to play.

Freshman Avery Crouse drilled a clutch triple, off a feed from Zec to bring UTEP within one. After the Miners got a stop, Gill was fouled on a putback attempt. She hit both free throws to propel the home side back ahead. A couple more stops and free throws made it a three-point differential (67-64) with 27 seconds left, but Jett-Wilson’s triple knotted the contest. Both sides made stops on defense as action swung to OT before the Orange and Blue came alive to pull out the victory.

The Miners’ pressure defense harassed Charlotte into 20 turnovers, including forcing one in the waning seconds to ensure overtime. UTEP took good care of the ball, recording 18 assists compared to 12 giveaways. The Miners connected on eight triples, including a career-best four from Lipe on six tries.

Crouse added eight points and four steals while playing a career-high 40 minutes. Gallegos stuffed the stat sheet with 13 points, four boards and four assists.

Charlotte was paced by Jade Phillips’s 20 points and 15 rebounds.

“I am really proud of our team overall,” Baker said. “Charlotte has a great team, there’s a reason they’ve won as many games as they’ve won. We were fortunate to win tonight. We really played hard, and you could see in our team’s body language that they really wanted to win.”

UTEP will wrap up its homestand with its annual National Girls & Women In Sports Day game against second-place Old Dominion at 1 p.m. MT Saturday.

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