Sparkle Taylor (22 points) paced a quartet of Miners in double figures, and UTEP regained its winning ways with a 69-59 conquest of Florida Atlantic on its “Play 4 Kay” night at the Don Haskins Center Thursday evening.
The Owls (4-22, 0-15 C-USA) used a barrage of 3-pointers to surge out by 10 (22-12, 00:34 first quarter) but the Miners (7-20, 4-11 C-USA) didn’t flinch. UTEP clamped down defensively, holding FAU to 1-18 shooting in the second quarter, to change the fortunes of the game with an 18-2 run to surge into the lead.
The Miners’ margin swelled to as many as 15 (53-38, 2:11 third quarter), and they remained up by 10 (62-52) with 6:27 to play. FAU, which entered the game having lost 15 straight and 19 of its past 20, showed off its tremendous heart and spirit by fighting back to within three (62-59, 2:47 fourth quarter) but UTEP got some stops, a Taylor turnaround jumper and free throws to ice the contest. Taylor’s 22 points lift her career total to 1,264, which allowed her to move into third place all time on the Miner scoring charts.
“It was a good win for us and I’m really happy for our team and players,” UTEP head coach Keitha Adams said. “Florida Atlantic plays a lot of people tough and you really have to be ready to play them. We were not playing with a sense of urgency in the first quarter but we put Lulu (McKinney) on their top scorer and she did a nice job. We hit our free throws late to keep that separation and played pretty smart down the stretch.”
Tamara Seda (13 points), Najala Howell and Katarina Zec (10 points) joined Taylor in double figures while Zuzanna Puc pitched in seven points. The Miners won the boards, 45-36, thanks to Puc’s career-high tying 12 rebounds. Taylor (nine) and Seda (eight) also got after it on the glass. Puc also matched her personal best in blocks (two) to help UTEP accumulate seven rejections.
The Miners connected on 41.7 percentage from the floor (25-60), including a sizzling 62.5 percent (10-16) during a huge third quarter (26 points). They took good care of the ball (14 turnovers) and pounded FAU down low with a 38-22 advantage in points in the paint and 18-4 cushion in second-chance points.
FAU was held to 35.4 percent (23-65) shooting, which was hindered by the aforementioned tough second frame. The four points allowed in the second quarter was the second fewest in program history. Sasha Cedeno posted 19 points to pace the visitors while Katelyn O’Reilly, Alexis Shannon and Malia Kency netted eight apiece.
UTEP harassed FAU into 16 turnovers (which led to 19 points) while also limiting them to 11 offensive boards (four team).
The visitors were locked in early on, connecting on consecutive 3-pointers to help ignite a 16-6 run to start the contest. UTEP made some adjustments to counter with six straight points but back-to-back triples by the visitors made it 22-12 late in the frame. Howell drained a jumper on the Miners’ final possession of the quarter, and they kept the momentum as the game moved into the second frame.
Freshman Jakeira Ford blocked a shot, secured the board and then was rewarded for running the floor with a pass into the post to get the Miners going in the second quarter. Taylor then contributed back-to-back scores before a fastbreak basket by Howell helped UTEP forge the first tie of the tilt.
The Miners continued to play well as the period wore on, slowly but surely pushing out to a 31-25 halftime advantage. After the two sides traded scores early in the third quarter, UTEP used a 7-0 run to extend its cushion into double digits. The Miners remained up by a comfortable margin until that late run, but even then they played with composure to close out the contest.
UTEP will look to build on its effort while also sending its lone senior (Taylor) out in style on “Senior Day” at 2 p.m.Saturday against FIU.