The UTEP women's basketball team pulled away from a really good St. Mary's squad, moving them into the WNIT Sweet 16 with a 76-64 win in front a resounding home crowd of 4,703.
Things got going in a flurry early on, UTEP jumped out to an early 7-2 lead, though the Gaels would go on a 11-0 run after Danielle Mauldin laid one in to give SMC a 13-7 lead at the 14:15 mark of the first.
Runs were a trend in the first 12 minutes of the game, and for most of the evening.
UTEP answered the St. Mary's run with a 10-0 run of their own, and thanks to a Kayla Thornton triple to cap off the charge, the Miners re-took the lead at 17-13 with 9:23 left in the first half.
St. Mary's regained the edge at 20-19 with a quick 5-point swing, then Jenzel Nash nailed a three pointer that propelled UTEP to a strong first half finish.
The Miners outscored the Gaels 15-8 in the final 7:34 of the half to take a 35-28 halftime lead.
St. Mary's had no intentions of going quietly, Mauldin again got to the paint for a bucket, this time she brought the Gaels back within one at 37-36, polishing off an 8-2 run to start the first 3:04 of the half.
A pair of Mauldin free throws put St. Mary's ahead 46-44 at the 12:44 mark, then the Miners made the checkmate move of the night.
Switching to a 1-3-1 defensive look that forced SMC to hit jumpers, the Miners used a balanced attack on offense, and some huge stops to go on a 13-1 spurt, finished off by a sweet pass from Kristine Vitola that lead Nash to an easy layup.
But the trend of runs was not over just yet.
Trailing 59-47, the Gaels hit a quick 8-0 run, sparked by Jackie Nared who scored a game high 19 points, she hit two free throws to cut lead to 59-55 UTEP with 3:37 left in the tilt.
Although on the next UTEP possession, senior Kristine Vitola drilled a huge three pointer to stretch the lead back to 62-55, issuing a final dagger, finally sinking the Gaels postseason ship.
The Miners would go on to make their final seven free throw attempts in the final 1:10 to keep their WNIT dreams alive.
Kayla Thornton lead UTEP with 17 points, and 8 rebounds, Chrishauna Parker had her second straight double-double adding 12 points, and 12 rebounds.
The Miners scoring attack came from all over the rotation, Jenzel Nash finished with 11 points, while Stacie Telles added 7 points, including two huge three pointers, UTEP got 21 points off the bench.
Despite shooting 36 percent from the field, UTEP made 25 out of 31 tries from the free throw line, and owned the boards 42-34, grabbing 18 offensive boards leading to 19 second chance points.
Mauldin finished with 15 points for the Gaels who gave UTEP 17 points thanks to 16 turnovers, and went 4/21 from behind the three point line.
UTEP (26-7) will now prepare to face Colorado on Friday at 7:00 PM in the Don Haskins Center.