No. 18 UTEP Advances Into C-USA Championship Game With 86-69 Win Vs. USM
March 8, 2008
ORLANDO, Fla. - The No. 18 UTEP women's basketball team raced out to an early 8-2 lead and never looked back on the way to waxing Southern Miss, 86-69, in the Conference USA semifinals, securing the program's initial berth in a conference championship game as result.
The Miners, 27-2 and winners of 23 straight-the longest active streak in the country-, will take on second-seeded SMU (23-8) at 1:30 MST, with an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament on the line. The contest will be carried live by ESPN2.
"I thought we played exceptionally well today," UTEP head coach Keitha Adams said. "We came out in the first have and guarded defensively very well."
Second-team All C-USA honoree Natasha Lacy led the way, pouring in 25 points to go along with eight rebounds and eight steals. She is the first player in the school history to have at least 25-8-8 (of that combination) in a single game.
The all-league defensive player certainly looked like one, equaling the second-highest single-game steals total in school history. The effort inched her to within three of the school-record single-season steals record. Moreover, the 25 points check in as the third-highest single-game total in program postseason history.
Lacy was not the lone standout on the day, though, as Jareica Hughes (21 points, eight assists and six boards), Izabela Piekarska (14 points, three boards) and Timika Williams (13 points-including 11 in the opening half) all rose to the occasion.
The Miners were prolific offensively, rolling to a season-high 86 points on the strength of a sizzling 55.0 percent from the floor. UTEP once again showed off its unselfish attitude, tallying 17 assists compared to just 12 turnovers.
At the other end of the court, the Orange and Blue overcame a 48-percent effort by USM from the floor by forcing 23 Lady Eagle turnovers. Those giveaways were converted into 31 points.
UTEP, which led wire-to-wire in the victory, jumped all over the Lady Eagles early on. The Miners opened up a 14-point lead just eight minutes into the contest, with Lacy draining a jumper to cap a 9-0 spurt.
The Lady Eagles tried to rally, slicing the deficit to eight with 3:25 left after a triple by Kendra Reed, but five successive points pushed the Miners' advantage back to double figures.
UTEP entered the locker room up by 13 (42-29). The Miners christened the second half much like the first, building their largest lead of the game (53-29) courtesy of an 11-0 spurt over the first four minutes. Lacy was instrumental in the stretch, either scoring or assisting for 10 of the 11 points in the sequence.
Southern Miss continued to battle, but the Lady Eagles could climb no closer than 14.
The Miners now turn their attention to a very talented SMU squad.