Senior Tamara Seda poured in 21 points, including two free throws to ice the contest in the waning seconds, as UTEP knocked off co-league leader WKU, 80-75, on “Senior Day” at the Don Haskins Center Saturday afternoon.
The Miners (16-13, 7-9 C-USA) shot the third-highest field-goal percentage (57.7) in a conference game in program history while equaling the seventh-best figure overall at the school in addition to winning the boards (35-26) to take out the Lady Toppers (21-8, 12-4 C-USA).
Jordan Alexander and Zuzanna Puc buoyed Seda with 19 points each while Katarina Zec pitched in nine points and a career-high seven assists. Puc also established a personal high with five helpers. Overall UTEP dished out a season-best 23 assists on 30 field goals made.
The effort helped offset the tremendous one-two punch of WKU, with Ivy Brown (31 points) and Tashia Brown (19 points) each putting up huge numbers for the visitors. No one else on the squad, though, reached double figures in scoring.
“I’m really proud of our team,” UTEP head coach Kevin Baker said. “I think going through that tough stretch where we lost five games in a row really is the thing that propelled us to win, not just today but Thursday as well. We came out in the first half and kind of hung with them. When that happened it woke our team up and we felt like we could do this. Obviously this is one of our best performances of the year.”
It was back-and-forth early on before consecutive scores from WKU afforded it a four-point edge (10-6) with 3:19 to play in the opening frame. UTEP struck back with a 7-2 push, aided by a pair of triples from Faith Cook, to afford it a 13-12 lead late in the stanza. WKU got a jumper on its final possession to go up by one (14-13) through 10 minutes of action.
It remained a one-point contest in the initial stages of the second quarter but WKU got into a little rhythm on the way to pushing its margin to seven (30-23) with 3:16 left in the half. UTEP tightened up defensively, pitching a shutout the remainder of the period. At the other end of the court four points from Puc, including a pair of free throws, allowed the Orange and Blue to cut the deficit down to three (30-27) heading to halftime.
WKU had a strong start to the second half, twice securing five-point advantages. The Miners didn’t flinch, though, striking back with their own 5-0 run to forge a 44-44 tie with 4:08 left in the quarter. WKU countered with back-to-back baskets to go back up by four (48-44) but the Miners put together a mini 7-2 run to grab a one-point edge (51-50) after three quarters of action.
In the final frame it was the Miners who had the quick start, extending the differential out to five on a pair of occasions over the first four minutes. Both times WKU immediately answered with a 3-pointer from Sidnee Bopp. Consecutive scores by the Orange and Blue made it a six-point contest (66-60) with 5:26 left but a mini 6-0 run from the visitors pulled them even.
UTEP answered with an old-fashioned 3-point play from Seda to break the eighth tie of the tilt, and as it turned out would never relinquish the lead. The visitors trimmed the margin to two on a pair of occasions, but UTEP hit big shots while taking care of business for the most part down the stretch at the charity stripe. Seda was 5-6 at the free-throw line over the final 31 seconds, including the two huge makes with four ticks left to seal WKU’s fate.
UTEP will now turn its attention to the 2018 C-USA Championships (March 7-10). The Miners head to the league’s pinnacle event with momentum, having closed out C-USA play with consecutive wins for the first time in conference action this year.