Ariona Gill poured in a career-high 22 points while Zuzanna Puc added 18 points but visiting Abilene Christian outlasted UTEP, 70-69, in the final game of the UTEP Thanksgiving Classic at the Don Haskins Center Saturday evening.
The Miners (2-3) trailed the Wildcats (6-0) by as many as 15 (23-8) in the opening quarter but they slowly but surely chipped away at the deficit. UTEP reduced the margin to seven (37-30) at the break before managing to take a one-point edge (50-49) heading to the fourth quarter. It was a back-and-fourth battle down the stretch, with ACU going back on top for good with a pair of free throws with 13 seconds left. An unlucky pass led to Gill having to race down the ball before heaving up a desperation 3-poiner at the buzzer.
UTEP drilled 52.5 percent (31-59) from the floor while also committing the fewest turnovers (nine) of the Kevin Baker era but ACU was locked in offensively as well. The Wildcats drilled 51.1 percent (24-47) of their shots, including draining 14-28 (50.0) from beyond-the-arc. They also won the boards, 29-23.
“I thought our team got a lot better today,” Baker said. “I was really impressed with how we battled as a team. We moved the ball so much better this game than we did yesterday. We have to learn to be tough and get through it. We were one inbounds pass away from winning the game so we’ll hang our hat on that and figure out a way to get better before our next game.”
Katarina Zec pitched in 11 points to join Gill and Puc in double figures. Four different Miners registered five assists each to help UTEP pile up a season-best 24 assists. Dominique Golightly (18 points) and Makayla Mabry (17 points) led the way for ACU. The duo combined to make 10-17 from 3-point range.
ACU came out firing, racing out to a 23-8 lead through 10 minutes of action. Mabry was instrumental in the opening frame for the visitors, tallying 14 points in the period. She nailed 4-5 from beyond the arc in the stretch.
UTEP ripped off seven straight points to open up the second quarter on a high note. Gill got is started with a lay-up, which was followed by a trey by Zec and a baseline jumper from Alexa Hoy. After the Wildcats extended the advantage back to 13 (34-21) with 4:47 left in the half, the Orange and Blue scored the six points to get within seven (34-27). It remained a seven-point differential (37-30) going to halftime.
The visitors continued to lead by seven (46-39) with 4:20 remaining in the third quarter but UTEP peeled off six straight points to inch within one (46-45). ACU pushed it back out to four following one of its 14 triples in the contest, but UTEP closed the stanza strong to take the one-point margin (50-49) into the final frame.
UTEP used a lay-up from Gill to push its cushion to three (52-49) early in the fourth quarter. The Wildcats stroked back with a 13-6 run to lead by four (62-58) with five minutes to play. UTEP countered and regained the lead on a trio of occasions from that point but a back-luck turnover with 16 seconds left when ACU was trying to foul gave the visitors the break they needed. The free throws were converted on the subsequent possession and Gill’s circus-like shot refused to fall.