EL PASO – Rallying from a 13-point first-half deficit, the Colorado women’s basketball team gave UTEP and its record women's crowd plenty of anxious second-half moments here Friday night before finally falling 68-60 in the third round of the WNIT.
CU ends the 2013-14 season with a 19-15 record, while UTEP improved to 27-7 and will host its second Pac-12 Conference opponent – Washington – on Monday night.
"We’re pretty happy with the way we came back,” CU coach Linda Lappe said. “It took us time to adjust to the crowd (but) give UTEP a ton of credit – they were physical, fast and quick . . . all the credit goes to them. We fought but just didn’t have enough.”
UTEP outrebounded CU 43-26 and took advantage of a huge discrepancy at the free throw line. The Miners made 26-of-30 foul shots, the Buffs 5-of-12. Jamee Swan came off the bench to lead CU in scoring with 15 points, with Ashley Wilson adding 10.
Wilson, her twin sister Brittany, and Rachel Hargis ended their CU basketball careers. Brittany Wilson scored six points, with Hargis adding four before fouling out with 8:56 to play.
Arielle Roberson, who had a double-double (15 points, 11 rebounds) in CU’s win against Southern Utah, attempted only two field goals, making one. She finished with four points and seven rebounds in 23 minutes, with her playing time limited by four personal fouls.
Kristine Vitola led UTEP with 22 points and got help from Kayla Thornton (11) and Chrishauna Parker (10). Thornton, who was averaging 20.1 points, scored all of her points in the second half.
Averaging 23.5 turnovers in their two WNIT wins, the Buffs finished with 21 Friday night. But Lappe lamented that the most costly miscues occurred in the game’s final 4 minutes and helped UTEP keep CU at bay.
Buoyed by a record 8,234 at the Don Haskins Center, the Miners jumped to a 9-0 lead and went up by as many as 13 (26-13) before the Buffs rallied with a 12-2 run and tied the score at 28-28. UTEP scored the final three points of the first half and led 31-28 at intermission.
CU took its first lead (37-35) of the night with 16:10 to play and stayed close thereafter. A 3-pointer by Lauren Huggins gave CU a 40-39 advantage with just over 12 minutes remaining, but UTEP’s leading scorer – Thornton – scored her first points of the night on a trey that returned the lead (42-40) to the Miners.
The Buffs trailed by six points (50-44) after four consecutive free throws by Vitola. CU rallied behind layups by Haley Smith and Ashley Wilson to cut the deficit to 50-48 with 6:18 remaining, and the Buffs – and Smith – weren’t done.
Her layup tied the score at 50-50 with 51/2 minutes left, but a pair of free throws by Parker restored a two-point (52-50) UTEP lead. A Parker layup sent the Miners up 54-50 before Ashley Wilson answered with a short jumper to pull the Buffs to 54-52.
Thornton got her second basket off a CU turnover and pushed UTEP ahead 56-52 with a layup at the 2:36 mark. Lexy Kresl answered with a steal and a layup, bringing the Buffs to within 56-54 but that was as close as they would come.
A Sparkle Taylor put-back restored the Miners’ four-point lead – 58-54 – with 1:40 to play. And when a Vitola layup with just over a minute left sent UTEP up 60-54, CU was in trouble.
The Buffs’ woes deepened when Parker hit two free throws, pushing the Miners up 62-54 with under a minute to play. When their lead went to double figures – 64-54 – on another pair of foul shots by Kelli Willingham, the Buffs’ season was all but done.
The Miners advanced in the WNIT with home wins against Arkansas State (74-64) and Saint Mary’s (76-64), while the Buffs won a pair of games in the Coors Events Center against TCU (78-71) and Southern Utah (79-68) to earn their trip to El Paso.