Senior Kayla Thornton poured in the second-most points (28) by a Miner in a postseason game to help UTEP advance to the second round of the WNIT with a 74-64 win against Sun Belt Conference champion Arkansas State in front of 4,500 fans at the Don Haskins Center Friday evening. The Miners, who are making their first appearance in the WNIT, (25-7) will play host to Saint Mary’s at 7 p.m. MDT Monday.
The game was tied (33-33) at the break and the margin was one (38-37) with 18:16 to play in the contest before UTEP found another level. Spurred on by the enthusiastic crowd, the Miners peeled off 11 straight points in a span of less than five minutes.
The Red Wolves (22-12) were stunned by the surge, and never got closer than six the rest of the way out. The cushion was 10+ points over the final 10 minutes of the game, and it swelled to as many as 16.
UTEP nailed 46.7 percent (28-of-60) of its attempts while winning the rebounding battle, 40-35. It piled up 16 assists on 28 field goals made while turning it over only 13 times.
A-State was sharp offensively in the first half with a 50.0 percent (13-of-26) readout but UTEP tightened up at the break, and the visitors made just 33.3 percent (11-of-33) during the second stanza.
The Orange and Blue’s pressure defense also paid off, forcing 17 turnovers that led to 22 points. Thornton was the key player in that department, making seven steals. That figure is a career high while ranking as the second most by a Miner in postseason play.
Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year Aundrea Gamble lived up to the billing with 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting to pace A-State while Hanna Qedan pitched in 15. No other Red Wolves’ player had more than six points, though, with UTEP clamping down.
There were six ties and seven lead changes in the contest, with the majority of those occurring during a back-and-forth first half.
A-State led by as many as seven (18-11) in the stanza before the Miners closed the period out on a 22-15 surge to pull even entering the locker room.