Senior Kayla Thornton registered 21 points to become UTEP’s all-time leading scorer but the moment was spoiled in an 84-70 setback to second-seed Southern Miss in the 2014 Conference USA Women’s Basketball semifinals at the Don Haskins Center Friday afternoon.
The Miners (24-7) bow out of the league’s pinnacle event at 24-7 on the year, and they will now wait to hear word of a potential WNIT bid Monday evening. The Lady Eagles (26-5), who pushed their winning streak to 13, will move on to face No. 22/20 and top seed Middle Tennessee in the championship contest at 6 p.m. MDT Saturday.
UTEP led 57-53 with 8:49 to play in regulation before the momentum started to switch. Consecutive offensive fouls against the Miners gave USM some added possessions, and it took advantage. Jamierra Faulkner, who paced USM with 26 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, was the catalyst.
Faulkner tallied nine points while dishing out four helpers and grabbing three boards during a game-altering 13-2 run for the Lady Eagles that put UTEP in an eight-point hole (67-59) with 2:49 to play in the contest.
Thornton brought the sequence to a close with a pair of free throws. UTEP, which was still down eight with 2:03 to play in the game (71-63). The Miners tried to extend the game by fouling but to its credit Southern Miss nailed 9-of-10 tries down the stretch to hold on for the win.
Thornton’s 21 points brought her career total to 1,573, moving her past former Miner great Jareica Hughes’ previous standard (1,555, 2006-10). Stacie Telles drilled each of her three-point attempts to help her finish with 13 points while Chrishauna Parker and senior Kristine Vitola added 12 and 11 points, respectively.
Kelli Willingham also made history by sinking a three-point shot to set the school record for career three pointers at 209. Former Miner Amy Billhymer had held the record (208) since finishing at UTEP in 1997.
UTEP did a great job against the Southern Miss pressure with 12 assists and only 11 turnovers but it could not find a way to contain the second-seed at the other end of the court. USM scored 44 points in the paint to UTEP’s 26 while also winning the rebounding battle, 44-33.
Jerontay Clemons (17 points) and Tamara Jones (13 points) joined Faulkner in double figures for scoring. Overall USM hit 47.5 percent of its shots with Faulkner effectively running the show.