Kelli Willingham tallied a season-high 18 points while Anete Steinberga added 14 but UTEP came up short at Tulane, 56-49, in a defensive-dominated contest at Devlin Fieldhouse Thursday evening.
The Miners (17-4, 5-3 C-USA) mixed up their defenses well to hold the Green Wave (17-4, 6-2 C-USA) to just 28.1 percent (18-of-64) from the floor, including 26.3 percent (5-of-19) from distance, but they were unable to overcome a sluggish start to the contest.
UTEP dug itself an early double-digit deficit and was forced to play catch-up the entire night against the preseason league favorite. The Miners worked it down to four (25-21) with 3:42 to play in the first half only to have Tulane close the period on a 7-0 push, including a half-court three-pointer as time expired.
The Miners continued to battle in the second stanza. They whittled a 13-point deficit to just three (39-36) with 6:55 to play only to have Tulane hold on down the stretch. It scored 13 of its final 19 points at the free-throw line, affording it just enough offense to withstand the Orange and Blue charge.
Kayla Thornton buoyed Willingham and Steinberga with nine points while Chrishauna Parker and Destinee LaFountain each pitched in four. UTEP hit 30.8 percent (16-of-52) of its shots, including 36.8 percent (7-of-19) after the break. The Miners took care of business at the free-throw line (15-of-21, 71.4 percent), in addition to committing just 15 turnovers.
Tulane managed to win the battle of the boards, 49-43, which was helped by 22 offensive caroms. UTEP also reached double figures in offensive rebounds (12), and it had seven second-chance points.
Olivia Grayson tallied 15 points, including an effort of 11-of-12 on free throws, to lead the Green Wave while Jamie Kaplan and Tiffany Dale finished with 11 and 10, respectively.
The Green Wave had 10 turnovers, resulting in seven UTEP points, while being held to 24 points over the final 20 minutes.
Tulane got out of the gates quickly, scoring the first five points to help it build a 10-point cushion (15-5) four minutes into the contest. It pushed that advantage to 12 (23-11) with 7:29 to play before UTEP used a 10-2 run to get the deficit down to four. Tulane pitched a shutout over the final four minutes of the period, which was capped by Kaplan’s heave from beyond midcourt as the horn sounded.
The Green Wave continued to lead throughout the second stanza, holding off each UTEP run.
The Miners will return to action when they play host to Southern Miss at 2:05 p.m. MST Sunday. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for kids.