HOUSTON, Texas – UTEP led for over 29 minutes of game action, but a late Rice run proved to be the difference in a 62-53 loss on Saturday in the Tudor Fieldhouse.
Trailing 52-50 with 4:25 remaining, the Owls (10-2, 1-2 C-USA) closed the game by scoring 12 of the final 13 points to top the Miners (9-3, 2-1 C-USA).
Throughout the game, UTEP made plays to keep the Miners in a position to win against a quality opponent on the road.
“I absolutely loved the way that we played today,” UTEP Head Coach Kevin Baker said. “We gave ourselves a chance to win. We led the game for about 30 minutes, and I felt in control the whole night. I never felt like we were going to lose the game. In the fourth quarter things got away from us a bit, but even then, I was still banking on the resiliency of our kids. Bottom line is we just missed too many layups and too many free throws. Hopefully we will learn from this, grow and be better.”
UTEP took a 13-12 advantage into the second quarter thanks to 11 combined points between starting forwards Adhel Tac and Elina Arike.
Tac tallied a career-high 15 points on a 7-of-12 day from the floor. She also contributed four rebounds, two assists and a steal.
“Our guard play is absolutely terrific, and now our forward play is getting up to the same level as our guards,” Baker said. “And that’s why we have been so tough to beat these last two games. Our forward play is now equal to that of our guard play. We can now pound it inside and look for some good results like opponent foul trouble and scoring.”
In the second, the Miners continued to keep the momentum going, holding the lead the entirety of the first portion of the quarter, highlighted by the second 3-pointer of Tac’s career.
Rice would go on to end the second on a high note to bring things closer.
Malia Fisher stole an inbound pass to end a 6-0 Rice run as part of the stretch. Her layup put the Owls on top for the first time in the quarter at 21-20.
Later in the half, N’Yah Boyd drilled a left-wing triple off a Jazion Jackson assist to make it 25-23 in favor of UTEP, with the Miners not relinquishing the lead again prior to the break. The score would be 27-26 at halftime.
The lead remained intact for the first 8:33 of the second half, growing to five after a Soleil Montrose buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the 4:44 mark and six with 3:19 on the clock on a second-chance connection from distance for Avery Crouse.
Up 40-34 after the Crouse make from the perimter, the Miners faced a big push from Rice over the next two minutes, seeing the lead slip away following a 7-0 run.
In response, Sabine Lipe hit a big triple of her own to put the visitors up by a pair.
Trinity Gooden made a layup with 45 seconds remaining in the quarter for Rice to lock things up at 43 heading into the final 10 minutes.
Early in the fourth, things looked promising for UTEP, as standout forwards Malia Fisher and Ashlee Austin each picked up their fourth fouls less than three minutes into the final stanza. Fisher had 12 points and 11 boards while Austin was limited to eight points and two rebounds.
Crouse buried a triple with 7:44 left that put the Miners up 50-47.
Jazzy Owens-Barnett answered for the Owls to knot the score at 50 before a Tac basket with 5:07 on the clock made it 52-50 UTEP.
The Tac tally would mark the final one of the afternoon for the Miners, who were not able to connect on their last six shots during the 12-1 Rice run.
Crouse joined Tac in double figures with 12 points and Boyd had 11 of her own.
For the second straight game, Jackson tied a career high with nine rebounds. She also had seven assists and a steal.
UTEP was 18-of-52 (34.6 percent) from the floor and 5-of-13 (38.5 percent) from the perimeter. Rice went 20-of-44 (45.5 percent) overall and 2-of-17 (11.8 percent) from 3-point land. A 20-of-24 (83.3 percent) clip at the free throw stripe helped to push the Owls over the top.
The Miners return to the Don Haskins Center on Jan. 7 to host LA Tech at 1 p.m.