Senior Kristine Vitola (career-high 23 points, 10 rebounds) and senior Kayla Thornton (22 points, 11 rebounds) each recorded double-doubles to help lift UTEP past upset-minded Louisiana Tech, 85-75, at the Don Haskins Center Wednesday evening.
Trailing 70-69 with 3:29 to play, the Miners (18-4, 7-2 C-USA) turned to their seniors. Vitola and Thornton were ready to carry the load, scoring a combined 11 points during a game-closing 17-5 surge to extend UTEP’s win streak to five.
Freshman Sparkle Taylor (career-high 15 points) and junior Stacie Telles (10 points) also reached double figures in scoring, as the Orange and Blue improved to 13-1 on the year at home.
It was a back-and-forth affair seven ties and nine lead changes, with the Lady Techsters riding the efforts of Lulu Perry (24 points), Whitney Frazier (17 points, 12 rebounds and JaQuan Jackson (15 points) to give the Miners all they wanted.
The visitors actually shot a better percentage (29-of-66, 43.9) from the floor than the home side (27-of-72), 37.5), but UTEP prevailed due to its depth, hustle plays and dominance on the glass. The Orange and Blue held at 30-10 advantage in bench scoring, won the battle of the boards (53-42) and out-scored LA Tech, 21-9, in second-chance points. Another factor was turnovers, with the Lady Techster’s 23 giveaways leading to 21 points for the Orange and Blue.
It is the first win in the series for UTEP, as LA TECH claimed the initial nine meetings.
The effort moves the Orange and Blue to 85-32 since the start of the 2010-11 campaign, making this year’s senior class of Thornton, Vitola and Kelli Willingham the most successful in program history. The prior standard (84-40) was shared by Jareica Hughes and Timika Williams (2006-10).
The two sides traded baskets over the first 13 minutes of the contest, and the Miners led 25-22 after a couple of free throws by Taylor. The charity stripe tosses sparked the start of a 10-1 run, affording Keitha Adams’ squad a 33-23 cushion with 3:36 left in the period.
To its credit, Louisiana Tech did not fold up shop. It scored six straight points to reduce the deficit to four (33-29) with 1:33 left in the half. It remained a four-point UTEP advantage heading to the locker room (35-31).
The Miners deployed a full-court press early on in the second stanza to help extend the advantage out to seven (46-39) with 17:09 left but Louisiana Tech refused to go away quietly. It struck back with six straight points. Things went back and forth over the next 13 minutes, with neither squad able to string together any sustained run.
UTEP found itself down by one (70-69) with 4:13 to play but it did not panic. On the ensuing possession Telles was fouled, and she hit a pair of free throws to account for the game’s final lead change in a somewhat anticlimactic manner.
Vitola then used good moves in the paint to score on consecutive trips, and the Lady Techsters were not able to get closer than five points the rest of the way out.
The Miners will wrap up a stretch of three out of four games at home when they play host to FIU at 7:05 p.m. MST. All fans who wear pink will receive free admission as part of an effort to raise awareness in the battle against breast cancer. Otherwise all tickets will be $2.
Fans are also encouraged to be a part of the Keitha Adams show at Tortuga Sports Lounge from 5-6 p.m. MST Thursday (126 Shadow Mountain Drive). Coach Adams will be giving away prizes while also being joined by a special guest.