UTEP women’s basketball stormed back from a 15-point deficit before falling 74-71 to North Texas on Saturday in the Don Haskins Center.
The Miners (13-6, 6-4 C-USA) played in front of a crowd of 1,286 fans for their 915 Game, the largest of the season in the Don. The turnout was the most for the program since 1,352 showed up to watch UTEP play New Mexico on Nov. 19, 2019.
Trailing 71-65 with under a minute left, the Miners made it a one-possession game with 37-seconds left thanks to back-to-back baskets by Elina Arike and Erin Wilson, the second of which was created by an Arike steal.
North Texas (8-13, 5-6 C-USA) hit just four of its final eight attempts at the free throw line to leave the door open for a comeback.
With the Mean Green clinging to a 72-69 advantage with 18-seconds remaining, Jordyn Carter missed back-to-back free throws. She would be bailed out though by teammate Kendall McGruder, who won the box out and was fouled to earn two freebies of her own, which she would convert to push the lead up to five.
“We rebound the ball so well usually that I wasn’t really very concerned in a free throw box out,” UTEP Head Coach Kevin Baker said. “But boy, we sure missed two big ones. And really, if you boil it down, that cost us the game late. If you really watch the 40 minutes of the game though, we lost the game in the first 15 minutes.”
An Arike layup with six-seconds left cut the deficit to three for the Miners, who then created a turnover along the sideline as a result of a pass by McGruder that went out of bounds.
A last-chance attempt on a 3-pointer by Arike was partially blocked by Quincy Noble to spoil the comeback attempt.
UTEP trailed by as many as 15 late in the third quarter before a 16-4 run made it a one-possession contest at the 4:06 mark of the fourth.
Avery Crouse got the Miners started in the final quarter, burying a triple that was immediately followed by another from Sabine Lipe to force a North Texas timeout. Just over two minutes into the fourth, the lead had quickly evaporated down to seven.
As part of a 10-2 run at the onset of the fourth, Soleil Montrose drew a key charge, not shying away from contact as Aniyah Johnson bowled her over with 6:45 on the clock.
Hustle, grit and a 71.4 percent shooting clip from the floor for the Miners in the fourth made things interesting late.
“We didn’t play well, but we showed who we really are in the fourth quarter with that resiliency,” Baker said. “Even trapping and stealing the ball late to give us a chance to win really speaks to who they are. They are a joy to coach, they really are. If you think about it, most of the year – 19 games in – we have been ready to play every game, and today we weren’t. That falls on the shoulders of the head coach, and the head coach will be better.”
Playing against her former team for the first time, North Texas transfer Jazion Jackson scored 16 points with eight rebounds.
Jackson started the scoring in the game by banking in a 3-pointer on the first possession for UTEP.
North Texas then rattled off a 9-0 run that featured seven points off turnovers.
In that first, the Mean Green led by as many seven.
An Avery Crouse left-wing triple late in that first quarter capped a 7-2 stretch in favor of the Miners. As a result, UTEP cut the deficit down to just two at 18-16 after 10 minutes.
Over the next five minutes of action, a 12-2 North Texas run built the lead to 30-18, putting UTEP in a position to have to play from behind for much of the rest of the way.
North Texas was up 33-29 at the half before outscoring the Miners 27-18 in the third quarter.
Playing in front of her family for the first time in her UTEP career, Arike equaled her career high with 19 points on a 7-of-9 effort the floor.
“We are a bunch of fighters,” Arike said. “Nobody wants to lose. Like Coach Baker said, we have a couple of transfers from (North Texas), so maybe there is some tension there. We always talk about having our sisters’ backs, which I think is what we were trying to do.”
Adhel Tac brought down 11 rebounds alongside Arike on the interior, while Wilson and Crouse each compiled 12 points.
UTEP played without Crouse over the final 4:23 after she fouled out.
Saturday marked the 100th game of Crouse’s collegiate career, as she becomes the eighth player in program history to start 100 or more games with the Miners. The Sachse High product is a four-year starter.
“She has been the glue that has held our team together for years,” Baker said. “Even as a freshman, she didn’t say much, but she plays big. She has started 100 games, and if it was up to me, she would start the next 100 games. She’s just a quality young lady. She is somebody that UTEP and El Paso can be proud of who has been here all four years.”
The Miners outrebounded North Texas 36-34, were 25-of-55 (45.5 percent) from the field and 6-of-19 (31.6 percent) from the perimeter. UTEP was outstanding at the free throw line, going 15-of-16 (93.8 percent).
North Texas shot 27-of-59 (45.8 percent) overall and 7-of-21 (33.3 percent) from downtown. The visitors went just 13-of-24 (54.2 percent) at the stripe.
In the win, the Mean Green were led by the 23 points from Noble.
UTEP welcomes in No. 23 Middle Tennessee next Thursday in the first game featuring a ranked team in the Don Haskins Center since a 54-43 loss on Dec. 7, 2019 against No. 20 Arizona. The Blue Raiders are a perfect 11-0 in C-USA action and have won 16 straight games.