UTEP went toe-to-toe with Conference-USA leading UAB through three quarters of play before the visitors found another gear in the final frame to pull away for an 84-64 victory at the Don Haskins Center Friday evening.
UAB (18-3, 7-1 C-USA), which led 54-52 heading to the final frame, opened up the fourth quarter on a 16-1 run on the way to outscoring the Miners (13-8, 4-4 C-USA) by a count of 30-12 over the final 10 minutes of action.
Jordan Alexander tallied a career-high 18 points to pace UTEP. She was joined in double figures in scoring by Tamara Seda (10 points, 10 rebounds), Najala Howell (10 points) and Zuzanna Puc (10 points, nine boards) while Katarina Zec pitched in nine points.
The Miners shot 41 percent (25-61) from the floor and finished with 17 assists to only 11 turnovers but they simply didn’t have enough firepower to keep pace with the Blazers for the entire contest. UAB finished at 53.4 percent (31-58), including 47.2 percent (17-36) from beyond-the-arc. Aiding those numbers was shooting a ridiculous 84.6 percent (11-13) in the final 10 minutes of action. Rachael Childress powered the attack for the Blazers with 26 points, including going 8-13 from home-run range. Deanna Kuzmanic (19 points) and Trista Magee (14 points) buoyed her efforts.
“I love my team because we played so well for three quarters and gave ourselves a chance,” UTEP head coach Kevin Baker said. “We gave ourselves a chance going to the fourth quarter but I kept thinking that escalated quickly because they can really, really shoot the three. Coach Norton does such a great job putting you in defensive rotation where you cannot cover out on their best shooter.”
The Blazers scored the first nine points of the contest before a free throw by Howell got the Miners on the board with 5:14 remaining in the opening quarter. The Miners regrouped, using a 10-4 push to cut the deficit to three (13-10) before UAB drilled its third trey of the frame to double its advantage. UTEP reduced the margin to four (16-12) with a pair of free throws by Howell but a lay-up on an out-of-bounds play to beat the buzzer put it back to six (18-12) through 10 minutes of action.
A jumper by Alexander allowed the Orange and Blue to inch within four again (18-14) early in the second quarter but the Blazers nailed consecutive triples to surge out by 10 (24-14) and force a UTEP timeout. The deficit remained 10 (27-17) with 8:01 to play in the half but UTEP dug deep and began to chip away.
The Miners tallied six straight points off to get within four (27-23) before UAB seemingly reinstated order with a triple to make it 30-23. UTEP had other ideas, though, putting together a half-closing 11-2 run over the final four minutes to vault into the lead (34-32) heading to the locker room. Included in the push was scoring the final eight points in the frame, with a corner triple by Zec with 37 seconds capping the sequence in style.
The two sides traded baskets over the first three minutes of the third quarter before a driving lay-up by Alexander was followed by a 3-pointer from Howell to afford UTEP an eight-point lead (48-36). Now it was UAB’s turn to call timeout with the need to recuperate, which it did out of the break with 10 consecutive points to regain the lead (48-46). The Miners ended the surge with an athletic lay-up from Zuzanna Puc to forge the first tie of the tilt at 48. Puc converted on the ensuing possession to put UTEP back ahead but a little push late in the frame allowed UAB to be up, 54-52, heading to the fourth quarter.
The Blazers found an entirely new level in the fourth quarter. They opened the final frame on a 16-1 run on the way to outscoring the Miners by a count of 30-12 during the period.
UTEP will now travel to face in-state foe UTSA at 1 p.m. MST/2 p.m. CST Sunday. Steve Kaplowitz will be joined by 1966 Texas Western men’s basketball team member Nevil Shed for the call of the contest for 600 ESPN El Paso (online only or through the KROD app). The game will also be streamed live on CUSA.tv (subscription required).