Senior Anete Steinberga banked home a lay-up with 10 seconds to play to propel UTEP to a 49-48 win at Rice Thursday evening. The Owls (9-9, 1-4 Conference USA) had a chance to pull out the victory but a quality Miners’ (15-2, 3-1 C-USA) double team forced Jessica Kuster, who finished with a game-high 21 points, to give it up and the shot by Christal Porter rimmed out as time expired. UTEP moves to 3-1 on the road this year, including 2-0 within C-USA play.
Chrishauna Parker led the Orange and Blue with 12 points while Steinberga and Kayla Thornton each added 10. Parker had a huge impact on the eventual game-winning bucket, coming up with a loose ball to save the possession before Irene Gari used a beautiful lob pass to find Steinberga.
“It was a great win,” UTEP head coach Keitha Adams said. “We hung in there and fought until the end. We struggled shooting tonight but we played hard on defense and hung in there. It’s always a great win when you win on the road.”
UTEP, which enjoyed an 18-0 run to build a 14-point lead in the first half, finished the game at 33.3 (19-of-57) percent from the floor. It did nail 75 percent (9-of-12) from the free-throw line while also committing just 12 turnovers. They got after it on defense, with the Owls being held to 36.4 percent (20-of-55) from the floor.
Kuster notched a double-double (21 points and 11 rebounds) while Megan Palmer chipped in nine points, but no other Rice player finished with more than five points. The Owls were forced into 15 giveaways, which the Miners converted into 18 points.
Rice jumped out to an early 5-1 lead but UTEP regrouped and roared into the lead on the strength of the aforementioned 18-0 run. The surge spanned five minutes, and it afforded the visitors a 14-point advantage (19-5). Rice regrouped and ran off seven in a row before Syerra Davis used a nice finish in traffic to reinstate a double-digit cushion (23-12).
The lead at the break was nine (29-20). The two teams traded blows over the first several minutes of the second stanza, and UTEP looked to be in good shape by leading by 11 (40-29) with 11:17 to play.
The Owls had other ideas, though, tightening things up on defense while Kuster and Palmer heated up at the other end of the court. The result was a 17-3 surge for the home side, but UTEP kept its composure. The Miners held Rice to just two points in the final four minutes.
Two free throws by Thornton got the Miners within one, only to have Palmer drill a jumper to make it a three-point difference. Gari got the deficit back down to one with her lone jumper of the night and then set up Steinberga for the clutch score.
UTEP will look to make it a perfect road trip when it plays at Houston at 12 p.m. MST Sunday. The game will be broadcast locally in El Paso on KHRO 1150 AM.