NICEVILLE, Fla.- Sparkle Taylor posted a game-high 20 points and UTEP shot its highest percentage (51.9) vs. a division I foe on the year but Alabama forced 24 turnovers and unleashed a barrage of three pointers (11-25) to post a 78-60 victory in the final game of the Patrick Harrington Classic Tuesday evening.
The Miners (2-9) dug themselves a big hole (25-13) after 10 minutes of action against the Crimson Tide (11-1) but refused to fold up shop. Alabama’s margin over the final three quarters was only +6 (53-47), with the youthful Miners battling to the final whistle. UTEP closed out the contest on a 16-4 run, with freshmen accounting for 14 points in the sequence.
UA was held to a lower percentage from the floor (44.6 percent) than the Miners but compensated by the aforementioned turnovers forced in addition to crashing the offensive glass (17 offensive rebounds). Free throws were also a factor with Alabama making 9-15 compared to UTEP’s 1-3 from the line.
Lulu McKinney (10 points) joined Taylor in double figures while Zuzanna Puc (nine points), Najala Howell (seven points) and Faith Cook (career-high tying five points) also got involved in the offense. McKinney dished out a game-high tying six assists. UTEP connected on better than 50 percent from the floor in all four quarters of action, and finished with its second-best three-point percentage (5-12, 41.7 percent) of the campaign.
Hannah Cook (19 points, four rebounds), Jordan Lewis (17 points, six assists), Shaquera Wade (14 points, seven boards) and Meoshonti Knight (10 points, six rebounds) led the way for the vaunted SEC program.
“This is the toughest non-conference schedule we’ve ever had (school-record five power conference teams), but we’re going to reap some benefits somewhere down the road” UTEP head coach Keitha Adams said. “I think the biggest positive is that our kids are still a team; they’re really being very supportive of each other. I thought we played hard tonight. We’ve been through the shredder, and it’s been very humbling and difficult. We had five freshmen on the floor at the end of the game vs. Alabama.
“There’s a lot of things that we have to get better at. We shot the ball well tonight but we had 24 turnovers. If we take better care of the basketball you’re probably right where you want to be. It irritated me that we gave up offensive rebounds at the free-throw line. We’re not aggressive or physical enough but we’ll keep working on it.”
The two sides traded scores to start the game, and it was tied at six with 6:58 to play in the first quarter. But UTEP got a bit careless with the ball, making five turnovers in the final 5:30 of the period. To its credit Alabama took advantage, ripping off a 19-7 run to close the period with a 12-point (25-13) cushion.
The momentum carried into the second quarter, with the Crimson Tide tallying the first five points of the frame to extend their advantage to 17 (30-13, 6:59 2Q). Adams called timeout, and UTEP outscored Alabama 11-7 the rest of the quarter to whittle the deficit down to 13 (37-24) at the break. Howell got things going with a soft touch on a jumper before McKinney used a long triple and a driving lay-up to help ignite the run.
UTEP continued to get after it in the third quarter, three times reducing the deficit to 11 points but it was unable to ever get it into single digits. In the final frame Alabama managed to push its lead out to as many as 30 (74-44) but the Miners stayed united as a team and continued to try to execute the game plan by Adams and her staff. The result was the 16-4 surge to close things out but it was too little too late.
UTEP will now take a break for Christmas before wrapping up non-conference play at home vs. CSU-Bakersfield with a special matinee match-up at 1 p.m. on Dec. 28 (Wednesday).