Sparkle Taylor poured in 34 points to become the first player in program history to post back-to-back 30+ point games and Tamara Seda recorded her 10th double-double (13 points, 10 rebounds) of the year but it wasn’t enough as the UTEP women’s basketball team was edged, 80-76, by visiting Rice at the Don Haskins Center Saturday.
The Miners (6-20, 3-11 C-USA) battled valiantly in a back-and-forth game that featured 11 ties and 14 lead changes. The Owls (16-9, 7-7 C-USA) led by just two (62-60) with 4:46 to play before consecutive three pointers put UTEP in an eight-point hole (68-60, 3:50). The Miners took the blow in stride and trimmed the deficit down to two (78-76) with 20 seconds to play but Maya Hawkins put the game on ice with two free throws.
“I am extremely proud of how hard we played today,” UTEP head coach Keitha Adams said. “Rice has a very good team and it was a battle out there. That (the two three pointers) was big. It was a very physical game and very competitive game on both team’s part. We just came up a little short today but I am very proud of our team and how hard we competed.”
Hawkins finished with 25 points while Nicole Iademarco tallied 23 to lead the charge for Rice. The visitors connected on 45.1 percent (23-51) from the floor, including 35.0 percent (7-20) from beyond-the-arc. It also took care of business at the charity stripe by making 27-37 (73.0 percent).
Lulu McKinney scored 13 points (two shy of season high) to join Taylor and Seda in double digits but no other Miner had more than six points in the contest. The day, though, belonged to Taylor. She nailed 12-19 from the floor, including draining her second three pointer of the campaign, while also going 9-10 on the charity stripe.
It marked her second 34-point outburst in three days, and her stat line for the week is staggering. Taylor put up 68 points (34.0 points/game) on a combined 65.7 percent (23-35) shooting from the floor and 80.8 percent (21-26) at the charity stripe. She hit better than 63 percent of her shots in both games. Taylor also got after it on the glass, averaging 9.0 rebounds.
“Sparkle is a hell of a player,” Adams said. “She had 34 points but had tears in her eyes in the locker room because we lost.”
UTEP finished at 38.3 percent (23-60) from the floor but did an outstanding job at the line by nailing a season-high 26 tries on 33 attempts (78.8 percent). The Miners committed a season-low 10 turnovers while forcing 15 Rice giveaways to account for an 18-8 advantage in points off turnovers. UTEP also had a 14-8 cushion for second-chance points.
There were a combined 54 fouls in the game, including 28 on the Orange and Blue.
Following the then career-high 34 point performance against North Texas (2/16), Taylor came out firing for the Miners against the Owls. At the 5:36 mark of the first quarter, she had scored as many points (eight) as the enter Rice team.There were five ties and eight lead changes in the first quarter alone, with Rice up 22-20 through 10 minutes of action.
The pace did not continue into the second frame. Both the Miners and Owls had two points alone over the first four minutes of the quarter. As the half began to wind down Rice shooters starting to find their stroke, helping it stretch the advantage to as many nine (39-30) at one point.
The Miners began the third quarter with stout defense, using a 10-2 run to take a 42-41 lead. They continued to find their success in defense, holding the Owls to 13 points in the quarter while getting back into the game. The Miners recorded three steals in the frame, which they converted to five points. Another factor was a turnaround on the glass, with UTEP grabbing 14 rebounds to match its total from the opening half.
Seda, who exited the game late in the third quarter after being inadvertently elbowed in the nose, showed her toughness by returning for the stretch run. She grabbed a defensive board on her first play back and followed that up with a basket at the other end of the court to put UTEP up two (58-56) with 6:49 to play in the game. The Owls, unfortunately, were able to strike back through the 3-point ball to regain the lead and momentum for good.
UTEP will look to bounce back when it plays host to Florida Atlantic at 7:05 p.m. MST Thursday. It will be the “Play 4 Kay” game, and in an effort to raise the awareness for the battle against breast cancer all fans who wear pink will get in free.