HATTIESBURG, Ms. – Fueled by the highest scoring first half on the road in program history, UTEP surged to an 89-72 win at Southern Miss Thursday evening.
The Miners’ (10-4, 3-0 C-USA) 89 points tie as the most in league road contest in school history. They also did so in an 89-74 win at UCF on Feb. 24, 2008.
UTEP piled up 51 points to lead the Lady Eagles (9-4, 1-1 C-USA) by 20 at the break on the way to their third victory in as many league games. It marked just the second home loss of the campaign for USM, which slipped to 8-2 inside Reed Green Coliseum this year.
Freshman Katia Gallegos set career highs in scoring (23) and assists (eight) to lead the way. She was joined in double figures by fellow starters Katarina Zec (21 points), Ariana Taylor (14 points) and Ariona Gill (13 points). Avery Crouse pitched in six points and four assists. All five starters logged at least 30 minutes of action.
UTEP drilled 52.5 percent (32-61) from the floor, the fourth-highest percentage in a road conference contest in program annals. Furthermore, the Miners have scored at least 89 points in consecutive league games for the first time in program history. They piled up 96 points in the home win against Florida Atlantic (1/4/20) before erupting for 89 points against USM Thursday.
“We played extraordinarily well in the first half,” UTEP head coach Kevin Baker said. “That’s about as good as we’ve played all year and we needed that to win here at Southern Miss. I’m proud of the team. This team is playing really, really well right now, and I hope everybody jumps on board. These are a special group of kids. To come in on a road game and play as well as this, that says a lot.”
The Orange and Blue forced 16 turnovers that were converted into 28 points. UTEP also controlled the boards (39-28), with Taylor’s career-high nine rebounds setting the tone in the area.
UTEP raced out to a 17-8 lead just four minutes into the contest. Six different Miners scored during the surge, which was capped by a transition triple from Arina Khlopkova off a feed from Gallegos. USM fought back, trimming the Miner advantage to three (23-20) through 10 minutes of action.
A jumper from Gill followed by a triple by Gallegos powered a mini 5-0 push to start the second quarter, prompting a timeout by the home side. The difference was 11 (42-31) with 2:49 left in the stanza before UTEP ripped off nine straight points to close the stanza in style. UTEP’s 28 points in the second quarter marked its highest scoring frame on the road at the school.
The Miners extended their lead to as many as 27 (72-45) late in the third quarter, but the home side started to rally.
USM fought back to whittle the differential to within eight (82-70) with four minutes to play, but Gallegos wouldn’t let it get any closer. She hit six straight free throws before drilling a triple for good measure to help UTEP close out the contest on a 9-2 surge to win by 17.
UTEP will look to make it a sweep on its first league road trip of the year when it plays at LA Tech at 1 p.m. MT/2 p.m. CT Saturday.
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