Sparkle Taylor tallied a game-high 23 points and UTEP shot 45 percent (23-51) from the floor but visiting and C-USA leader WKU emerged with a 71-54 win in front of a season-best 2,469 fans at the Don Haskins Center Thursday evening.
The Lady Toppers’ (15-5, 7-1 C-USA) pressure gave the Miners (5-14, 2-5 C-USA) fits in the first half, allowing WKU to build a 41-21 halftime lead. Fourteen of the 17 Miner turnovers came in that opening frame, which the visitors converted into 19 points.
UTEP made some fine adjustments at the break, resulting in a +3 (33-30) differential over the final 20 minutes of action. The Miners committed only three turnovers in the second half while also slowing down WKU’s attack. UTEP cut the deficit to 15 on a pair of occasions but WKU was able to answer every run.
“Western Kentucky has a good team and they did a nice job today on their defense,” UTEP head coach Keitha Adams said. “They pressed us and showed us a different kind of look than we’ve seen all year. We turned the ball over too much, especially in the first half. We made some adjustments at halftime and did a better job in the second half.
“They disrupted our offense, which is a credit to them,” Adams said. “They play very well together and have high basketball IQ. You put the combination of those things together and it made for a tough day.
Tashia Brown (13 points, seven rebounds), Kendall Noble (12 points, nine assists) and Ivy Brown (10 points) led the way for WKU, which nailed 46.2 percent (30-65) of its shots. Aiding that figure was an astonishing 76.9 percent (10-13) in a nearly flawless second quarter.
Freshman Jakeira Ford proved a spark off the bench for the Miners with six points and five rebounds in 198 minutes of action. Lulu McKinney (six points, two assists) and Zuzanna Puc (five points, career-high three assists) also made contributions for the Orange and Blue.
The two sides fought for momentum early, with five ties and five lead changes over the first six minutes of action. UTEP did well to get down low, tallying 10 points in the paint and adding a free throw.
The Lady Toppers, though, found another gear and wrapped a 16-0 run around the quarter change to surge ahead. The gut-wrenching sequence turned an 11-9 Miner advantage (4:23 1Q) into a 25-11 cushion (7:06 2Q) for the visitors.
Ford showed good range by knocking down a long two, halting the surge in the process as well. The Miners continued to battle, using a free throw by Taylor to get within 11 (27-16, 5:20 2Q). Unfortunately the Lady Toppers put together a 14-2 run to grab their largest lead (41-18) of the contest. McKinney drained a long triple to stop the sequence, but the damage had been done.
As expected of an Adams’s led squad, UTEP dug deep with aspirations of rallying in the second stanza. Taylor keyed the charge, scoring 13 points in the blink of an eye during a dominant stretch in the third quarter. But Noble and company countered every surge.
UTEP will look to apply some lessons learned from the setback when it wraps up the mini two-game homestand against Marshall at 2 p.m. MST Saturday. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for kids.