Sophomore Chrishauna Parker scored 15 points, senior Anete Steinberga added 14, and UTEP defended with tenacity in an emotional 60-54 victory against traditional Pacific-12 power Arizona State at the Don Haskins Center Sunday afternoon.
The back-and-forth game featured 10 ties and 15 lead changes, but the Miners (3-0) remained composed throughout on the way to downing the Sun Devils (0-2). UTEP outscored ASU, 33-26, in the second half, including a key 5-0 run late.
The contest was tied at 45 with 4:35 to play before the home side used a pair of Parker free throws and its only three-pointer in game (Willingham) to grab a lead it would never relinquish. ASU trimmed the advantage to three points on four occasions but could never get any closer with UTEP taking care of business at the free-throw line.
The effort affords the Miners consecutive 3-0 starts to a season for the first time in program history. Additionally, it is the first victory for UTEP against a member of a power conference since 2008-09 and the fourth all time in program history. The Miners, now 4-35 all time vs. power schools (at time of meeting), previously defeated Nebraska (Big 12, 63-53, 12/20/08), Kansas State (Big 8, 67-61, 12/6/96) and Arizona (66-46, Pac 10, 11/20/80).
“It was a great win for us,” UTEP head coach Keitha Adams said. “Our effort was tremendous. I’m proud of our team. Arizona State is very athletic and a very good team.”
Willingham and Kristine Vitola each scored nine points while Irene Gari and Kayla Thornton chipped in four points apiece. UTEP made up for an off shooting day (17-of-49, 34.7 percent) by getting to the line early and often. The Miners connected on 25-of-39 at the free-throw line, including going 10-of-12 in the final four minutes of the tilt.
Parker led the charge in that department by making 9-of-12, both career highs. Willingham was perfect (4-4) at the line while Steinberga drilled four as well. Thornton, hampered by an injury throughout the contest, returned late to help ice the game by sinking a pair with nine seconds to play.
Willingham dished out four assists, but more importantly had just one turnover despite facing a full-court press from ASU for the majority of the contest.
At the other end of the court Adams varied her defensive looks, and the visitors never got comfortable. ASU was held to 33.9 percent (19-of-56), including just 3-of-15 from beyond-the-arc. It was harassed into 18 turnovers, which the Orange and Blue converted into 22 points.
Adrianne Thomas tallied a game-high 16 points, but no other Sun Devil managed more than seven points.
ASU jumped out to a 4-0 lead before the Miners struck back with five straight points at the charity stripe. The Sun Devils countered with a bucket in the post & a trey from but UTEP had an answer. It came in the form of an 8-0 surge, capped by an athletic finish on a drive by Cameasha Turner to make it 13-9 with 11:23 to play in the period.
ASU recovered and scored 12 of the next 16 points in the game. The Miners fought back, eventually pulling back ahead on a jumper by Gari with nine seconds left in the stanza. ASU went into the locker room with the lead (28-27), however, thanks to Thomas banking in a triple from beyond half court.
The two teams traded blows in the second half, with neither managing an advantage of greater than three before UTEP took control down the stretch.
The Miners will return to action with a pair of games at the Junkanoo Jam in the Bahamas. UTEP will challenge Texas Southern at 2 p.m. MST on Thanksgiving (11/22) before locking up with another Pac-12 member, Arizona, at 5 p.m. MST on Friday.