UTEP advances to C-USA semifinals with 64-54 win over LA Tech
FRISCO, Texas - No. 4 seed UTEP scored 11 of the final 13 points to pull away late in a 64-54 win over No. 5 LA Tech on Thursday in quarterfinal action of the Conference USA Championships played inside the Ford Center at The Star.
Leading 53-52 with 5:19 remaining, the Miners (20-10, 12-8 C-USA) once again displayed the impressive knack for closing games that has been present throughout the season to advance to a semifinal date with No. 1 seed Middle Tennessee on Friday at 3:30 p.m. MT/4:30 p.m. CT.
By securing the victory, the 2022-23 team becomes the seventh in UTEP program history to win 20 or more games in a season and the first since the 2015-16 campaign.
Friday will be the 10th trip to the semifinals for UTEP women’s basketball.
“First off, I want to congratulate LA Tech on an outstanding year,” UTEP Head Coach Kevin Baker said. “They were arguably the hottest team in our conference coming into this game having won seven of their last eight games. They really got it going at just the right time. They are a very good team and a well-coached team, so I feel very fortunate for our team to come out with a victory today.”
The game turned in the fourth quarter when Elina Arike converted a Sabine Lipe missed 3-pointer into a put-back layup by battling through three LA Tech (19-12, 12-9 C-USA) players to put the Miners up 53-50.
From that point on, UTEP controlled the contest, as the Lady Techsters missed their final six shots following an Anna Larr Roberson jumper with 5:19 left.
After having to come out of the game during a portion of the second half, Arike came back with a vengeance once she did return.
“When you get back in the game the adrenaline keeps you going,” Arike said. “Of course, now I can feel it a little bit, but nothing too serious. Just a little tweak.”
It was an especially impressive effort for the Miners considering that starters Arike, Avery Crouse and Adhel Tac picked up their fourth fouls in the fourth quarter, with each managing to avoid being charged with a fifth foul.
“I think everyone was ready for this moment,” Arike said. “We have had a lot of close games, and everyone kept their composure. Even if we got offensive fouls or whatever we did, we knew we had the game in our hands, and we managed to keep it that way. I’m proud of my teammates for doing that.”
Throughout the contest, competitive basketball was displayed on the floor, with neither team taking full control until the Miners late.
In the first quarter, a 7-0 LA Tech run pushed the Lady Techsters out to a 9-4 edge early.
Lipe then entered the contest for the Miners off the bench, making an immediate impact with a 3-pointer to stop the run.
After four Crouse points to end the quarter, UTEP would be within one at 16-15 after 10 minutes of play.
A back-and-forth affair followed in the second, with the lead changing nine times as the two sides traded punches.
With the score tied at 28 after a Keiunna Walker 3-pointer for LA Tech, the Miners became the first team to build separation in the second quarter, rattling off 10 straight points entering the half to go up 38-28 at the break.
It was another Lipe triple that made it 33-28 before five straight N’Yah Boyd points heading into the locker room.
The Boyd stretch was highlighted by an incredible drive with the right side of the lane in which she took the contact underneath without hesitation before twirling an off-balance shot off the glass for a pair.
Out of the break, the Lady Techsters flipped the script however, outscoring the Miners 18-8 in the third quarter.
The biggest difference in the stretch was an 18-2 run that was eventually snapped by three straight Jazion Jackson points to bring things even at 46 entering the final 10 minutes.
It was Walker who took over in the third for LA Tech, scoring 10 points.
“We talk about this in almost every huddle,” Baker said. “Don’t let your offense define your defense. We weren’t making shots that we were normally make, but we continued to get stops, and thank goodness because in that third quarter we could not throw an acorn in the ocean, but we continued to guard. If we hadn’t, they would have built a pretty substantial lead there.”
For the 17th time this season, at least four Miners reached double figures, led by Arike with 15 points on a 7-of-9 day from the floor with six rebounds.
Lipe, Boyd and Erin Wilson each contributed 10 points, with Lipe and Wilson doing so off the bench.
Boyd and Jackson each grabbed a team-high seven boards, with Boyd also swiping four steals.
The UTEP bench outscored the LA Tech bench 23-9 for the game.
“They’ve done that all year,” Baker said of his reserves. “They have been terrific off the bench. One of the things we talked with our team the most was the 21 points off the bench at halftime. Where would we have been without 21 of 38 points off the bench? We don’t have many players - we only have 10 - but we have plenty to be able to make runs. But they have to be able to play like that in order to do that. I’m very proud of them. People that come off the bench have the hardest job in basketball. They figured out a way to get it done today.”
From the floor, the Miners were 25-of-64 (39.1 percent) with LA Tech going 18-of-56 (32.1 percent).
UTEP won the rebounding battle 41-38 for the contest.
This will be the second semifinal trip in the past three seasons for UTEP, which will take on a nationally-ranked Middle Tennessee team that the Miners have played two instant classics against this season.
UTEP won 65-62 in El Paso and the now No. 25 Lady Raiders came out on top 72-68 last Saturday in Murfreesboro.
“We didn’t talk about the next round at all,” Baker said. “We didn’t talk about playing Middle Tennessee again or having the opportunity to play them again. But I know my team, and I know what they were thinking when the horn went off in Murfreesboro. We let one get away from us in their house. We should have won that game. My team knows it, and they want another shot. How could you blame them? It’s going to be a great game.”
Semifinal action on Friday can be streamed on ESPN+ with Chris Mycoskie and Kyle Youmans on the call.
Jon Teicher and Steve Yellen will have the radio broadcast of the game airing on 600 ESPN El Paso and the UTEP Miners App.