Thornton’s Career Day Propels UTEP Past Belmont, 88-74

KDBC
Sunday, December 22, 2013 - 12:03am

Senior Kayla Thornton turned in a virtuoso performance by setting career highs in points (36), rebounds (16) and blocked shots (four) to guide UTEP past Belmont, 88-74, inside Guillermo Angulo Coliseum in its final game of the Puerto Rico Classic Saturday afternoon.

Thornton’s 36 points are the most by a Miner since 1991 and the third-highest total in school history. Holly Russ (40 vs. UTSA, 2/19/91 and 37 vs. Baylor, 12/17/91) holds the top-two slots in program annals.

The El Paso native was especially dominant in the first half, tallying 23 points and grabbing nine rebounds to help stake the Miners (10-1) a 49-26 lead at the break. The Bruins (3-10) made things interesting by cutting that margin down to seven (74-67) with 2:50 to play but the Orange and Blue kept their composure.

UTEP, off to a 10-1 start for the third straight season, went 9-of-10 at the charity stripe in the final 1:22 to close out the game in style.

Stacie Telles (12 points) and Kristine Vitola (10 points) hit double digits in scoring while Chrishauna Parker (nine points), Kelli Willingham (eight points) and Jenzel Nash (eight points) also had some good moments offensively.

But the day belonged to Thornton, who seemingly couldn’t miss. She connected on 13-of-20 attempts from the floor while also draining all 10 free throw attempts. The 6-1 forward also added a pair of steals in 36 minutes of action.

Overall UTEP drilled 48.3 percent (28-of-58) from the floor, aided by nailing 54.3 percent (19-of-35) during the explosive first half. The Miners registered 17 assists on 28 field goals but more importantly committed just 11 turnovers.

The lone senior on the Belmont squad, Molly Ernst, made her first appearance of the year after recovering from an injury, and she was a difference maker. Ernst poured in 21 points, helped by five three pointers, while Jordyn Luffman recorded a double-double with 19 points and 10 boards.

No one else reached double figures for the Bruins, who were held to 35.8 percent (24-of-67) shooting while UTEP also won the rebounding battle (44-39).

UTEP surged out of the gates with 10 straight points, including six by Thornton.

The Bruins caught fire from three-point range in the second half (8-of-14), but it was too little too late.

The Orange and Blue will be idle for eight days before wrapping up non-conference play with a pair of games after Christmas. There will be free admission when the Miners play host to Texas Southern at 2 p.m. MST on Dec. 29. UTEP will then ring in the new year by venturing to SEC territory for a match-up at national power Texas A&M on Jan. 2.

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