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El Paso, TX — The UTEP women’s basketball team pushed its winning streak to six after an impressive 83-62 victory against FIU in front of a season-high and the eighth-largest crowd (5,102) in program history at the Don Haskins Center Saturday evening.
Freshman Sparkle Taylor (career-high 16 points, five rebounds), Kayla Thornton (14 points, 12 rebounds) and Kristine Vitola (12 points, six rebounds) helped the Miners (19-4, 8-2 C-USA) pound the Panthers (11-11, 5-4 C-USA) in the paint (50-14) and on the boards (48-36).
It marks the single-season school-record 14th double-double for Thornton, topping the prior standard that she held along with Amy Pack (13, 2000-01). Taylor also put herself in the running for C-USA freshman of the week with her second straight quality game.
UTEP drilled 44.1 percent from the floor (30-of-68) and drained 18-of-21 from the free-throw line to eclipse 80 points for the program-best 14th time this season but truly the night belonged to the defense.
The Miners swarmed to the ball defensively, making FIU, and in particular two-time All-American and the nation’s second-leading scorer Jerica Coley (29.8 points per game), work for everything it got. Coley managed just 10 points on 4-of-18 shooting from the floor, and it had a trickle-down effect on the rest of the squad. FIU finished at just 34.4 percent (22-of-64) from the floor while also being harassed into 16 turnovers.
In spite of those struggles on offense, FIU was down by only three (32-29) with 17:49 remaining in regulation. UTEP found another gear, though, with the result being a 30-15 run in a span of seven minutes. The visitors, who had their three-game winning streak snapped, never recovered.
UTEP’s advantage swelled to as many as 25 (78-53, 2:41 to play) with several highlight-reel plays bringing the boisterous crowd to its feet. Head coach Keitha Adams was able to empty her bench, with the Miners cruising to their 16th double-digit victory on the year. That figure rates as the third-most in program history, trailing only the C-USA championship 2011-12 (20 out of 29) and 2007-08 (18 of 22) squads.
Chrishauna Parker responded to a challenge from head coach Keitha Adams by putting up eight points, seven rebounds and a game-high five assists while Kelli Willingham (eight points) and Cameasha Turner (seven points) also made their presence felt on the offensive end.
Turner, though, was even better on defense. She was the primary on-ball defender of Coley, who needed a triple with less than a minute to play to hit double figures in scoring for the 111th time out of 121 career contests.
UTEP, which led by five at the break (30-25), also continued the trend of playing its best basketball in the second half. The Miners out-scored the Panthers, 53-37 in the period, to help them move to 14-1 on the year at home.
UTEP will be idle until Feb. 15, when it will open up a two-game road trip by playing at Old Dominion at 5 p.m. MST.
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