Staar Breedlove, UTEP
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – Five different Miners reached double figures in scoring and UTEP turned up the defensive pressure late to emerge with an 85-78 win at Western Kentucky Saturday afternoon.
With the win the Miners (19-2, 10-1 C-USA) take sole possession of first place in Conference USA while also snapping the Lady Toppers’ (18-4, 9-2 C-USA) 15-game home winning streak. It is the first home setback for WKU since Jan. 31, 2015.
“I think we showed a lot of heart and character today,” UTEP head coach Keitha Adams said. “We played a really great team on their home court and just dug down deep. It’s a great feeling when your kids play that hard. We have all kinds of respect for Western Kentucky, which makes it just a great win. It was a big game, and we knew that we were playing for something today.”
Starr Breedlove (21 points, seven assists, career-high six steals) led the way but she had plenty of help. Fellow senior Cameasha Turner tallied 17 points and five boards while Lulu McKinney came off the bench to contribute 14 points, aided by making 4-6 from three-point range. McKinney also dished out six assists.
UTEP shot 52.4 percent (33-63) from the floor, and compiled 18 assists while only making 10 turnovers.
WKU was led by 29 points from Tashia Brown, with Kendall Noble (12 points) and Ivy Brown (12 points) also hitting double figures.
The Lady Toppers nailed 54.5 (30-55) percent from the floor and won the boards (32-28) but they had issues with the Miners’ pressure at key junctures.
WKU committed 15 turnovers, which led to 23 UTEP points. The Miners also had big advantage in second-chance points (15-6) and bench scoring (37-17).
Spurred on by an energetic crowd, WKU bolted out to 13-point lead (22-9) early with 42 second to play in the first quarter. UTEP didn’t flinch, but rather quietly continued to chip away.
McKinney got things going with the first of her four triples in the game, which was followed by a jumper by Turner to make it 25-20 WKU with 8:04 remaining in the second quarter.
The home side extended its advantage back to double figures but UTEP didn’t go away. Outstanding execution on an out of bounds play resulted in a classic three-point play for Turner to bring the Miners within six (46-40) heading to halftime.
The momentum carried into the third quarter, with UTEP ripping off seven straight points to take its first lead of the game at 54-50 with 6:16 left in the frame. WKU countered by pouring in nine straight points in the blink of the eye but Turner made a driving layup to slow the surge.
The two sides traded baskets and runs in the fourth quarter, and there was a sense that whichever team could string together some stops on defense would be the one to emerge victorious.
Much to the disdain of the faithful in E.A. Diddle Arena, that proved to be UTEP. The Miners held WKU to just one field goal in the final 3:41, fueling a game-closing 10-2 run.
Breedlove hit a three to start the defining surge, which was followed by a Turner free throw.
WKU got a jumper to get within one (79-78) with 1:12 to play but McKinney, with her dad in the stands, nailed a straight on triple to extend UTEP’s lead to four. Out of a timeoutChrishauna Parker got a steal and Breedlove hit a free throw. Breedlove then sealed the game with another steal and coast-to-coast score.
UTEP will be back in action at home against FIU at 7:05 p.m. MT Thursday. There will be free admission to the game as part of the annual “National Girls and Women In Sports Celebration.”