UTEP Women’s Basketball led by as many as 14 late in the third quarter and held off a late push by Southern Miss to complete the sweep of the Golden Eagles with a 74-72 victory in the Don Haskins Center on Saturday.
Despite leading by double digits midway through the third, Southern Miss knotted the game at 66-66 with just over four minutes remaining in regulation after capitalizing on a Miner turnover.
Both teams traded 2-point field goals until Destiny Thurman gave UTEP a 73-70 lead with 1:32 left in the game with her only 3-point field goal of the game (she was 0-5 in the game up until that point). From there, Southern Miss made it a 1-point game with a jumper in the paint, but Gallegos drew a foul with under :20 to play to ice the game with a free throw.
The Golden Eagles had a chance to tie or take the lead with the ball down by two with :19 on the clock, but Pruitt drew a crucial charge that gave UTEP the ball back and ran out the clock to clinch the victory for the Miners.
UTEP moved to 5-2 overall on the season and 2-0 in Conference USA play with the victory at home. Southern Miss fell to 2-2 on the year and 0-2 in league action following the weekend.
“That was a tough game,” head coach Kevin Baker said. “We couldn’t rebound the ball to save our life and they really punished us for that. They did a better job in this game I think of using their inside players as an advantage. They did a really good job of pounding the ball inside. It was beautiful basketball on their part and a great game plan. They were much more settled down and much more relaxed today, so they were able to execute their offense a little bit better and kind of expose us in our size. My hat is off to Southern Miss. I thought they did a really great coaching job today.
“Destiny (Thurman) made a huge, huge three. That is what I love about players like that. They don’t play their best game and maybe miss some shots here and there, but boy, when it mattered and we had to have a three, she drilled it. It couldn’t happen to a better kid and she has put in the work. She deserved to have that ball go in.”
Three different Miners scored in double digits, led by Katia Gallegos, who finished the game with a game-high 22 points (8-13 FG; 3-6 FT) to go along with four assists, two steals and a rebound. UTEP’s DejaNae Roebuck was 6-7 from the field, totaling 17 points (including 12 in the first half alone), two rebounds and two assists, while Michelle Pruitt led the Miners with six rebounds and tallied 12 points and a pair of assists in the win.
“It is pretty obvious that Katia wants to win,” Baker said. “If it’s scoring, she will score. If it is assists, she will assist. She is going to do what her team needs her to do, and I think we needed her to score a little bit today. We had some players off with what they normally do.”
The game was deadlocked at 19-19 following the first quarter of play, but UTEP shot over 60 percent in the second period and scored 13 points off turnovers in the first half to take a 40-33 lead into halftime.
The Golden Eagles came out of the break firing with Southern Miss shooting over 50 percent in the entire second half to cut into the Miners’ lead, but UTEP continued to lead until the midway point in the fourth.
Overall, UTEP led for 27:39 on Saturday compared to 6:37 by the Golden Eagles.
Next up, UTEP returns to action next Friday, Jan. 8 when the Miners travel to take on C-USA foe Rice in a pair of games in Houston.
Tipoff is set for 12 p.m. MT on Jan. 8 before the Miners close out the weekend at 12 p.m. MT on Saturday, Jan. 9 in Houston.
Gallery by Ruben R. Ramirez – El Paso Herald Post