From the 6-minute mark in the first quarter until 11 seconds were left in the fourth, North Texas had a firm grip on the lead over UTEP, but the Miners rallied in the final moments to steal a 67-63 victory from the Mean Green on Saturday afternoon at the Don Haskins Center.
Ninety seconds into Saturday’s game, UTEP had a 4-3 lead over North Texas. From that point until 11 seconds remaining in the game, the Miners trailed the Mean Green until Ariona Gill’s tip-in gave UTEP a 65-63 advantage and its first lead since early in the first quarter.
Gill also sunk the And-1 to give the Miners a 66-63 lead with 11 seconds left in the game. Katarina Zec, who went off for 18 points in the second half after being silenced in the first, also added a free throw with three seconds remaining to clinch the 67-63 victory for UTEP.
With the win, UTEP improved to 12-6 overall on the season with a 5-2 mark in Conference USA action, while North Texas fell to 9-11 and 3-5 in league play.
“I didn’t think we played our best game today and I thought North Texas really defended us well and shot the ball particularly well,” head coach Kevin Baker said following the win. “I think they elevated their game against us today. I was really impressed with how they played, but then I was impressed by how we just hung around and then put ourselves in position to win in the fourth. Sometimes you have to win that way in a game where you are kind of out of rhythm a little bit; you have to find a way to win.”
The Miners shot just 14 percent (2-14) in the opening frame, but never shot below 40 percent the rest of the way, finishing the game 23-of-47 from the field in the final three quarters.
North Texas led UTEP for more than 30 minutes in the game, including a 27-22 lead for the Mean Green at the halfway point, but the Miners fought back to outscore UNT 45-36 in the final two frames.
Defensively, UTEP entered the game ranked first in C-USA in turnovers forced and lived up to that ranking after forcing 23 Mean Green turnovers, including 15 in the first half.
“Sometimes you forget – I know I do – that we are a young team that is still learning,” Baker said. “We played an emotional game on Thursday and it was a game we really wanted to win. It sort of deflated us a little bit emotionally and I think it carried over into the first quarter in this game. And that’s unfortunate, but we have to figure out a way to not let that happen. When that game is behind us, we have to move on to the next. We didn’t play well in the first quarter, but they played pretty well, and I thought that was a double-edged sword. We played really, really good defense to get ourselves back into the game and that is what I am most proud of.”
UTEP dominated when it came to points in the paint after scoring 38 to UNT’s 16, but it was the Mean Green’s bench that came up huge with 33 points. The Miners also capitalized off 23 North Texas turnovers by scoring 24 points in response.
Katarina Zec (18 points) and Ariana Taylor (12 points) led the Miners offensively, while Ariona Gill grabbed 11 rebounds in the win, including eight on defense. Freshman Katia Gallegos also added nine points, six rebounds and five assists in Saturday’s win.
North Texas had four players score in double figures, led by Summer Jones, who had 17 off the bench to go along with seven boards. Charlene Shepherd also came off the bench to score 16 with seven rebounds for the Mean Green, while Randi Thompson (11 points) and Anisha George (10 points) also paced North Texas offensively.
Next, the Miners will hit the road next week to take on Middle Tennessee (12-7, 4-3 C-USA) at 5:30 p.m. MT on Thursday, Jan. 30. From there, UTEP will travel to Birmingham, Alabama, to face UAB (13-7, 5-3 C-USA) at 1 p.m. MT on Saturday, Feb. 1.
For complete coverage of UTEP women’s basketball, be sure to follow the Miners on social media at @UTEPWBB (Twitter), @utepwbb (Instagram) and on Facebook or visit the official home of UTEP Athletics.
Gallery by Andres ‘Ace’ Acosta – Chief Photographer – El Paso Herald Post