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WNIT: Miners Put Huskies Away, Move Into Final Four

UTEP's senior duo of Kristine Vitola and Kayla Thornton barged the Miners way into the WNIT Final Four with a 70-63 win over Washington.

Anthony Salom-MinerRush

Kristine Vitola poured in 20 points, and Kayla Thornton scored 21 points to power the Miners into a WNIT Final Four date with South Dakota State, after a hard fought 70-63 win over the Washington Huskies in front of 10,227.

Just as the scouting report said, the Huskies got things going early with the trifecta, sinking three in the games first five minutes to take an early 12-4 lead.

The Miners finally answered the hot Husky start after a slow start themselves with a 7-0 run almost ten minutes later, pulling withing one, 21-20 after a pair of Kristine Vitola freebies at the line.

After a jumper from Talia Walton put Washington back up 25-20 at the 6:09 mark,  a quick five point swing lead off the bench by Anete Kristeine in which she nailed a high arching three pointer, then a sweeping layup to give UTEP a 26-25 lead as the Huskies went on a four minute drought during the Miner run, and trailed UTEP 32-30 at halftime

More of the same back and forth pace lasted to start the second frame.   UTEP appeared to grab momentum along with a five point margin as Chrishuana Parker gave the Miners some cushion with an offensive rebound and put back, but eight seconds later Mercedes Wetmore splashed one from deep to cut the lead to 47-45 with 10:24 left.

UTEP was unable to stretch the lead larger than five over the next few minutes, even trailing by three after Kelsey Plum swished home a jumper, giving UW a 57-54 lead with 5:26 left.

But with tremendous, fierce defense, and a give me that attitude on the boards, the poised Miners would not let this game go.

After the bucket from Plum, Jenzel Nash converted a tough three point play, then Kayla Thronton sank a huge three pointer, giving UTEP the lead again at 60-57 with a little under four and a half minutes to go.

Those huge momentum shifting plays were part of a 10-0 UTEP run, capped off by a pair of Nash free throws that gave UTEP its largest lead of the night, 64-57 with 2:22 left.

Still, Washington keep knocking on the door of a comeback, Jazmine Davis stroked a three to cut the lead to 65-63 with 58 ticks left.  Although the Huskies could not overcome the tough UTEP defensive pressure, and their cold 9/32 shooting from behind the three point line.

Thornton sank a pair at the line just three seconds later to put UTEP back up 67-63, then came up with the biggest defensive play of the game to seal it.

Cameasha Turner was forced into a turnover after a missed three point try by Plum, but Thornton was in the right place at the right time and literally took the game, and ball away from Plum to seal this one at the free throw line, and book a date in the WNIT Final Four.

Nash was huge in her return to he lineup after a game suspension, she scored 12 points, and collected 5 rebounds, but helped pressure the talented duo of Plum and Davis all night, and keyed huge stops down the stretch to seal the win.

The two were held to a combined 7/22 from the field for the game after starting 1/6 combined in the games first 30 minutes.   Four players scored in double figures for Washington lead by Walton who scored a game high 22 points, Williams and Plum chipped in 11, while Davis scored 10 on 1/7 shooting from deep.

UTEP dominated the boards 50-36, which in large part kept Washington to only one shot, and thanks to Miners different looks on defense, negated any flow on offense for easy looks.

Vitola had 13 rebounds to go along with 3 blocks, Thornton had 14 boards, 12 on the defensive side, and Chrishuana Parker added 10 rebounds in the dominating effort on the glass.

The Miners again were solid from the charity stripe cashing in on 22 of their 28 attempts, and also continue to get huge contributions off the bench during important stretches, outscoring Washington's bench 22-0.

For the second straight game UTEP shot under 40 percent, but the Miners pounded the paint down the stretch leading to a 36-16 edge in points in the paint, and had 5 team blocks.

The focus now turns to South Dakota State (26-9)  whom the Miners (28-7) will host Wednesday at 7:00 PM for a shot at a chance to hang a banner in the Don.