UTEP upsets #21 Middle Tennessee, 65-62
EL PASO, Texas - For the first time since 1998, UTEP women's basketball upended a nationally-ranked opponent on Thursday night, knocking off No. 21 Middle Tennessee 65-62 on a Jazion Jackson game-winning triple with less than a second remaining.
Inbounding the basketball from in front of their own bench with 4.8 seconds left in a tie game, the Miners (14-6, 7-4 C-USA) ran a perfectly executed play to deliver the dagger, initially getting the ball to Sabine Lipe, who drew three defenders in on a shot fake before dishing it out to an open Jackson beyond the arc.
Despite a hand in her face, there was never any doubt that the Jackson left-wing attempt would fall, threading the nylon and sending the home crowd into pandemonium.
"We've been doing situations - kind of practicing them - and I was just ready to shoot it," Jackson said. "Whatever happened, I was just ready. But once I saw them double Sabine, I called for it, shot it, and the rest is history."
The win snapped a 16-game winning streak for Middle Tennessee (18-3, 11-1 C-USA) and marked the second victory for UTEP against a nationally-ranked foe in program history.
The other was a 50-46 defeat at home of No. 11 Utah on Jan. 31, 1998.
"We've had some really big wins through the years," UTEP Head Coach Kevin Baker said. "A lot of wins I've been very proud of. This one will rank up there with a lot of them."
In order to have the opportunity for the late Jackson heroics, the Miners had to withstand a host of chances for the Lady Raiders on their final possession.
With 14 seconds remaining, Jalynn Gregory had her shot blocked by Elina Arike.
Following the rejection, Middle Tennessee then earned multiple additional chances for second life, with Kseniya Malashka grabbing back-to-back offensive rebounds.
A held ball with 4.8 ticks on the clock though earned the Miners the last chance.
Arike had her second massive game in a row, scoring a career-high 20 points with eight rebounds and a career-best four blocked shots.
"Just a great college basketball game and I am so proud of our team," Baker said. "They were so, so resilient. It was one punch after the other. Took a punch, gave a punch, took a punch, gave a punch. Just seemed like whoever had the ball last might have a chance to win it, and that's exactly what happened. Really proud of our group. It's been a heck of a week for our group, but I've been doing this 29 years, and this is as resilient a bunch as I've ever had. They beat a very, very good basketball team today."
A quick start was a major key entering the contest for UTEP, and the Miners delivered by racing out to an 11-2 edge early that was capped by an Arike straightaway triple right before the first media timeout.
"When I saw the way that we started the game, you could tell we were going to be locked in," Baker said. "Win, lose, or draw, we were going to play great tonight. You could just tell. This is just a great win, and I'm so proud of them for this. This is something that I hope they won't ever forget."
C-USA leader Middle Tennessee would not back down though after the fast start for UTEP, flexing its muscle from the perimeter by sinking 3-pointers on three consecutive possessions to even the score up. Two possessions later, Courtney Whitson buried another shot from distance to give the visitors the lead for the first time at 14-11.
During the 12-0 run, Whitson connected on three of the four triples. She would go on to finish the night with 18 points on a 6-of-11 effort from the perimeter.
At the end of the first, the two teams would sit knotted up at 16 apiece.
Things remained tight halfway through the second, with Arike tying it up at 21 on a step-back jumper with 5:05 left before the half.
The quick-strike offensive attack for the Lady Raiders punched right back though, scoring eight straight to go up 29-21, including Whitson with two more 3-pointers.
UTEP rebounded well to the adversity, trailing by just two points at 34-32 heading into the locker room.
An 8-0 run in the third quarter marked a turning point in the win for the Miners, who used the stretch to build a 44-36 advantage. From that point on, Middle Tennessee would never hold the lead.
The Miners outscored the opposition 19-11 in the third.
Thursday marked the 10th time this season that UTEP has had four players score in double figures.
Erin Wilson contributed 13 points in her third start of the season. Jackson and Avery Crouse each joined Wilson and Arike in double digits with 10 points. Crouse stuffed the stat sheet, grabbing seven rebounds and six assists.
"Erin's been stepping up, man, she's been big," Baker said. "Ever since N'Yah Boyd went out, she's played great. Today she played great again. She's been a real shot in the arm for a team that needed a shot in the arm with all of the injuries and all of the things that have gone on. Boy, she has been special."
UTEP went 22-of-49 (44.9 percent) from the floor on the night and 7-of-20 (35.0 percent) from downtown. Middle Tennessee was 21-of-56 (37.5 percent) overall and 11-of-29 (37.9 percent) from beyond the arc.
The Miners outrebounded the Lady Raiders 37-30 on the night while posting a 24-18 edge in points in the paint.
"I think we are showing people now that we need to be respected and that we've earned our respect," Arike said.
Next up for UTEP is a meeting with second-place WKU on Saturday at 1 p.m. in the Don for the National Girls and Women in Sports Day game for the program.