The UTEP women’s basketball team forced 30 turnovers and got big efforts from several players to outlast Charlotte, 94-91, in double overtime to claim the outright 2016 Conference USA regular-season championship in front of a roaring 4,012 fans at the Don Haskins Center Saturday afternoon.
Jenzel Nash enjoyed a monstrous game (career-high 31 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and three steals) to lead the way for the Miners (25-2, 16-1 C-USA), who pushed their overall win streak to seven while halting the 49ers’ (17-10, 10-6 C-USA) undefeated surge at five. Lulu McKinney buoyed Nash with 18 points, including two big triples in the second overtime period, while Starr Breedlove (13 points) and Cameasha Turner (12 points) also hit double figures in scoring for the Orange and Blue.
Charlotte shot 51.6 percent (33-64) from the floor, won the boards (50-36) and got big games from Grace Hunter (32 points, nine rebounds) and Laia Raventos (22 points, seven assists, five rebounds) but was done in by the relentless pressure from the Orange and Blue.
The Miners shot a solid 42.2 percent (35-83) form the floor but the difference in the game down to ball security and depth. UTEP forced 30 turnovers, while committing only 12, which led to a whopping 43-2 advantage in points off giveaways. Additionally Miner reserves out-paced Charlotte’s back-ups to the tune of 34-3.
The regular-season crown is the third in program history (2008, 2012 and 2016), with all under head coach Keitha Adams. At 16-1 in C-USA play, UTEP has matched school and league record for single-season C-USA victories. The Miners also conclude the home portion of their schedule at a flawless 16-0, marking the second undefeated home campaign (14-0) in program history.
“I’m just really, really proud of our team,” UTEP head coach Keitha Adams said after the first double-overtime game at the school since 2005-06. “Today was an extremely hard-fought game against a very talented Charlotte team. It was two very good teams playing each other. I’m really proud of our players for protecting our home court; that’s why I let them cut the nets because they protected the home court the whole year. They earned it and got the championship outright. I’m just really happy for our players.”
The visitors looked poised to hand UTEP its first home loss of the year, leading 72-70 with 15 seconds to play in regulation and in possession of the ball. Nash had other ideas, though, coming up with a steal and drawing a foul. She calmly sank both charity stripe tosses to tie the tilt. Charlotte called timeout to set up a play but misfired at the buzzer.
There were just eight points total in the first overtime, and Nash’s potential game-winning shot wouldn’t drop with one tick left to send it to double overtime. Nash nailed a triple to get the scoring started in the second extra period before a free throw by Raventos made it 79-77 UTEP with 3:15 on the clock.
McKinney then took over, draining clutch triples on consecutive possessions to give the Miners some much-needed breathing room (85-78, 1:42 to play). Charlotte, as expected, continued to battle down the stretch but never got closer than three the rest of the way.
The game featured eight ties and six lead changes, but for the most part UTEP controlled things. The Miners led for 31:12 of action, with their largest cushion being an 11-point advantage (42-31) early in the third quarter.
UTEP will wrap up the regular season when it plays at UTSA at 6 p.m. MT/7 p.m. CT Thursday. The game will be carried by 600 ESPN El Paso and fans can also watch live on the C-USA digital network.
Author: UTEP Athletics