Miners fall to SMU in fight for top spot
Published: Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Updated: Friday, May 17, 2013 13:05
Even the 20 points from junior guard Kayla Thornton were not enough to keep the UTEP women’s basketball team from falling to the number-one team in Conference USA, the SMU Mustangs 82-73.
A win could have given the Miners sole possession of first place, but with the loss, UTEP is now in a three-way tie for second place with Tulane and East Carolina.
Junior transfer Keena Mays led the Mustangs with 26 points off of 9-of-18 shooting. Mays started the game getting inside the paint and converting on layups. Then she showed off her outside game, hitting four shots from beyond the arc. Her defense was also helping her offensive game as she stole the ball for a team-high five times that converted into fast-break points.
“Keena Mays is probably the best player in the conference…you know she’s going to make some plays, but she makes it look pretty easy too,” Adams said.
The Mustangs, who average 11.5 steals per game and are the 35th-best team in the country, had 13 of them on Sunday that resulted in 20 points off those steals. Rebounding was also an issue for the Miners, as they gave SMU too many extra possessions that took the time away from the clock when UTEP really needed it. The Mustangs got 17 offensive rebounds; that contributed to four layups and two 3-pointers.
“In order for us to beat a good team, we can’t give up offensive rebounds, rebounding hurt us, every time they got a rebound they made us pay for it,” Adams said.
It was a back and forth first half as neither team was able to pull away, with four lead changes and four ties throughout the first 20 minutes.
Every time it looked like SMU was going to gain a bigger lead, the Miners would hit a 3-pointer to inch closer back. UTEP defense held up and only allowed SMU to shoot 36 percent in the first half.
The Miners had to look for offense during that first half as leading scorer Thornton picked up two quick fouls in the beginning of the game. She played six minutes in the first half for six points.
The freshman guards Irene Gari and Jamie Madden picked up the scoring combining for 16 points and three 3-pointers in the first half.
In the second half, SMU came out hot and did not miss, even with good defense by the Miners. The Mustangs made 11 out of their first 13 shots to build an 18-point lead. SMU showed why they are the 16th-best team in the country in 3-point scoring, hitting 9-for-17 from beyond the arc.
“They came out pretty hot in the second half, we just got to play better defense and execute,” junior guard Kelli Willingham said.
With eight minutes to go in the second half, Mays took a breather and the Miners went on a 13-2 scoring run led by Willingham and sophomore guard Chrishauna Parker. Willingham made her first points of the game on a 3-pointer that started the run. She then got it going by hitting a lay-up while getting fouled, followed by hitting another 3-pointer. She finished with 11 points after not scoring in the first half.
Parker finished off the run by falling down, but maintaining her dribble, getting back up to find senior center, Anete Steinberga, to bring the deficit down to seven and made SMU call a timeout with three minutes to go.
“I’m proud that the girls responded and all of a sudden we’re trying to make a run and knocking on the door,” Adams said.
That would be as close as UTEP would get as Mays returned to the game and the Mustangs offense got it going once again, closing the opportunity for a Miner comeback.
“It was a game of runs. They had their runs, we had our runs, and unfortunately, it wasn’t enough,” Madden said.
The Miners are now 17-3, 5-2 in C-USA. SMU improves their winning streak to eight games and are still undefeated in Conference USA with a 16-4, 7-0 C-USA record. UTEP will head to Tulane on Feb. 7 for their first matchup of the season against the Green Wave.
UTEP was ranked 27th in the AP Top 25 poll, but with this loss they are now at 33.
“We showed some fight, but we got beat by a good team,” Adams said.
Albert Gamboa may be reached at email@example.com.