Conference USA Champs! Miners Drown the Green Wave, 69-65
March 10, 2012
Fans are invited to attend an NCAA Tournament selection show watching party with the C-USA champion UTEP Miners on Monday at the Don Haskins Center. Doors open at 4 p.m. with the selection show starting at 5 p.m. Admission is free.
The Miners will return to El Paso at 2:10 p.m. on Sunday for fans wishing to greet the team at the airport.
Gloria Brown scored 18 of her game-high 20 points in the second half as regular-season champion UTEP rallied past No. 3 seed Tulane, 69-65, in the 2012 Conference USA Championship title game on Saturday at the in FedExForum in Memphis.
With the win, UTEP improves to 29-3 on the year and earns the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Miners scored their first C-USA Championship title game win and the trip to the "Big Dance" is the second in school history. Tulane falls to 22-10 on the year.
"Well, I am speechless in some ways, which doesn't very happen often," UTEP coach Keitha Adams said. "What a game. We were struggling in the first half. We were kind of struggling with each other. At halftime, we talked about those things, and I think in the second half we had our minds right and our focus was right. We just kept hanging in there and kept hanging in there."
Brown, who added 11 rebounds, three steals, a pair of blocks and an assist to her point total, was named C-USA Championship MVP and was joined on the All-Tournament squad by teammate Kayla Thornton, Danielle Blagg and Olivia Grayson of Tulane, and Jamierra Faulkner of Southern Miss.
"I wasn't playing well at first. Then my teammates were like, 'G, I know you can do it,'" Brown said. "They just believed in me. They were like, 'We believe in you.' Then I was like, 'Man my teammates believe in me.' And I just went out there and played as hard as I could."
UTEP trailed by as many as 12 points with 15:13 to play, but used a 17-4 run over the next 7:27 to go ahead 51-50. Tulane scored the next seven points to go back on top 58-51 with 5:47 to go, but the Miners outscored the Green Wave 18-7 the rest of the way to come away with the win.
UTEP hit 42.6 percent of its shots from the field, overcoming a .355 clip (11-of-31) in the first half by connecting on 12-of-23 attempts (.522) after the break. The Miner defense held Tulane to just 11 baskets in the second half and a 39.7 shooting mark for the game (23-of-58). UTEP held a slight 36-34 edge in rebounding and turned 11 offensive boards into 13 second-chance points.
Thornton finished second to Brown in the UTEP scoring column with 14 points, while Erika Warren finished with 12. Three of Thornton's five field goals came from beyond the three-point arc and she fell just one rebound shy of a double-double with nine boards. Warren and Kim Smith tied for team-high assist honors with four apiece.
"Three pointers are not my thing. But, I've been practicing them and I've been in the gym shooting," Thornton said. "I just believed in myself and they just went in.
"This is a great one. We accomplished one of our goals. We did struggle today, but coach told us to believe and we came through for the win. So, it feels great. It's an honor."
Tulane scored the first four points of the game before UTEP rallied to tie the game at 5. The two teams traded the next 16 points and Grayson sparked an 8-0 Tulane run with a pair of free throws. The Miners sliced the deficit to one at 23-22 with 4:48 to go before the break, but Tulane outscored UTEP 11-6 the rest of the way to go into the locker room on top 34-28.
After falling behind by a dozen points just under five minutes into the second half, UTEP began its comeback with a three-pointer by Kelli Willingham. Following a Grayson layup to extend Tulane's lead to 11 on the ensuing possession, Brown tallied eight of UTEP's next 11 points and Chrishauna Parker put the Miners on top 51-50 with a trey at the 7:46 mark.
Tulane answered with consecutive baskets by Janique Kautsky, Jamie Kaplan and Adesuwa Ebomwonyi, and Brett Benzio knocked down a pair of free throws to stretch the Green Wave edge to seven at 58-51. From there, Brown scored five straight points, Warren nailed a pair of free throws and Kristine Vitola laid one off the glass to knot things up at 60-all.
UTEP went ahead for good when Brown hit a pair of free throws with 2:48 to go and stake the Miners to a 62-60 lead. Tulane cut the lead to one the next time down the floor when Blagg hit one-of-two free throw opportunities, but UTEP put the game away by converting seven free throws over the final 2:10 to account for the final score.
"I think down the stretch we went with a big lineup. Their guards were creating all kinds of problems for us driving to the basket and drawing fouls," Adams said. "They have a very good team. We have so much respect for Tulane. I have a great deal of respect for Lisa Stockton. She's a really good coach. Our games are always dogfights and good games.
"We went with our big lineup. We went with Kayla [Thornton], Gloria [Brown] and Kristine [Vitola]. I think that changed things with all the driving and the on-ball [defensive problems]. We were trying to trap the on-ball picks. And, our defense just rose and these guys just fought. We finally got our offense going and did what we had to do to win the game. I'm really proud of our team."
Grayson led the Green Wave with 14 points while Blagg, Tyria Snow and Adesuwa Ebomwonyi tallied 11 each. Benzio posted a game-best 12 rebounds.