Veteran leaders Kristine Vitola (18 points), Kayla Thornton (15 points) and Anete Steinberga (12 points) all reached double figures in scoring to help the UTEP women’s basketball team down Houston Baptist, 67-58, at the Don Haskins Center Friday evening.
The Huskies (1-2) hung around for a bit before the Miners (2-0) blew the visitors out of the water with a game-changing 19-6 run spanning about seven minutes in the second half. The surge afforded UTEP a 56-41 lead with 8:10 to play, and HBU never got closer than seven down the stretch.
The overall effort allowed the Miners to improve to 2-0 for the second straight year & 13th time overall in program history. They won’t be able to rest on their laurels, though, with a match-up looming against Pacific 12 power Arizona State at 2:05 p.m. MST Sunday.
“I’m not very happy with how we played,” UTEP head coach Keitha Adams said. “We can’t have that approach. “Houston Baptist played hard and competed. You play like you practice. We really didn’t have two good days of practice leading into the game so I wasn’t really surprised by things.”
UTEP connected on 44.4 percent of its shots (28-of-63), including 48.3 percent (14-of-29) during the first half. Chrishauna Parker added seven points and five boards while Kelli Willingham pitched in six points and five rebounds.
HBU had some good moments in the first period by hitting on 40.7 percent of its shots (11-of-27) but UTEP tightened things up after the break. The Huskies were held to 28.6 (8-of-28) in the stanza, putting their total percentage from the floor at 34.5 (19-of-55). The Miners also harassed HBU into 19 turnovers, which led to 14 points.
UTEP’s size gave the Huskies fits, evidenced by an advantage of 44-24 in points in the paint.
Shanice Steenholdt (15 points, 10 rebounds) led the way for HBU while Tayler Jefferson pitched in 14 points.
The Miners got out of the gates quickly by scoring six straight and eight of the first 10. HBU responded with a 6-1 push, fueled by back-to-back banked three-point shots. UTEP regrouped with a lay-up from Thornton and a trey by Willingham to push its lead out to six (16-10) at 13:50 of the first half.
To their credit the Huskies battled back, even managing to secure a 33-29 edge with 3:31 to play in the period. UTEP owned the final minutes of the stanza though, with lay-ups by Steinberga and Vitola sandwiched by a jumper from Irene Gari affording it a 35-33 edge heading into halftime.
Defense was the dominant theme in the early part of the second half, with each side managing just two points in the first five minutes. UTEP started to come alive on offense, though, with Steinberga and Vitola fueling the push. The duo combined to score 10 points in the decisive stretch, and the Huskies never truly threatened down the stretch.
HBU managed to get within seven (65-58) in the final minute but UTEP sealed the win with a couple of stops and some charity-stripe tosses.
The Miners will wrap up their season-opening three-game homestand by playing host to Arizona State at 2:05 p.m. MST Sunday. All kids will get in free as part of “Kids’ Day.” Adult tickets will be $5.