Top Seed UTEP Outlasts UAB, 60-49
March 9, 2012
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Kelli Willingham had 15 points and Gloria Brown pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds as regular-season champion and top-seeded UTEP outlasted an upset-minded UAB squad, 60-49, in the 2012 Conference USA Women's Basketball Championship semifinals on Friday afternoon at the FedEx Forum.
The two teams traded blows over the first 29 minutes of the ballgame, but the Miners' Kristine Vitola hit a pair of free throws with 11:49 to play to break a 34-all tie and UTEP never trailed again. With the win, UTEP improves to 28-3 and advances to the C-USA Championship title game where it will square off with No. 3 seed Tulane (22-9) on Saturday. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m. and the game will be televised live nationally on the CBS Sports Network. UAB, meanwhile, falls to 19-11 on the year and will have to wait until Monday to learn its postseason fate.
Willingham was the only Miner to finish with a double-digit scoring output, but 11 of the 12 players to take the court for UTEP scored at least two points including Vitola and Jenzel Nash with eight each. Brown added seven points to her rebounding performance and led the squad with four blocks and three assists.
As a team, UTEP hit 45.0 percent of its shots from the field (18-of-40) and held UAB to a .268 clip (15-of-56), including a 6-of-26 showing in the second half (.231). The Blazers forced 21 turnovers which led to 14 UAB points, but the Miners held a 46-23 edge on the boards, turned 12 offensive rebounds into 24 second-chance points, and outscored the tourney's No. 4 seed in the paint 24-16.
Following Vitola's go-ahead free throws, UTEP hit six more from the stripe over the next 2:57 and a Willingham layup put the Miners on top 46-38 with 7:04 on the clock. The Blazers whittled the deficit down to five at 46-41 just under a minute later but could get no closer the rest of the way. UTEP hit all eight of its free throws over the final two minutes to put the game out of reach.
UAB got off to a good start, scoring five of the game's first eight points, and led by as many as nine at 21-13 with 8:09 to go before halftime. UTEP responded with a 6-0 run to cut the deficit to three and later tied the game at 24-all on a Willingham jumper at the 1:26 mark.
The bucket would be the final for either team in the first half, and UTEP drew first blood in the final frame on an Anete Steinberga jumper 18 seconds into the second stanza. Erika Warren broke a 28-all tie with a 3-pointer 4:44 later only to see the Blazers go back ahead 32-31 courtesy of consecutive layups by Michaelea Kleist and Karisma Chapman with 14:03 to play.
Willingham free throw tied things up and later put the Miners ahead with a basket to make it 34-32. UAB's LaShaunda Pratt set up UTEP's game-deciding rally with a jumper on the ensuing possession to knot the game for the sixth and final time.
Chapman led UAB with a game-high 19 points after converting 7-of-14 field goals and going 4-of-6 from the charity stripe. Pratt was next offensively with 10 points and the duo shared team-high steals honors with four apiece. Chapman and Khalilah Watson tallied a team-best two assists and five UAB players - Chapman, Pratt, Watson, Meagan Brown and Amber Jones - pulled down three rebounds.