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UTEP Women's Basketball: Defense helps UTEP close out Abilene Christian 66-62 in WNIT opener

It wasn't pretty, but survive and advance mode was in full effect Thursday night in the Don.

UTEP struggled with the mid-range jumper, and struggled from the free throw line, but got it done on the defensive end in the final quarter to finish off a talented Abilene Christian squad 66-62.

In the defensive process of picking apart the Wildcats down the stretch, UTEP broke the school record for steals in a season, they forced 18 turnovers which led to a 16-0 mark in fast break points, and simply wore down the shorthanded Wildcats' 10-girl rotation.

UTEP forced three turnovers on ACU's first three trips up the floor, and raced out to a 6-0 lead in the opening seconds of the game.

14 of UTEP's first 17 points came from inside the paint, as the much taller Miners extended their lead to 17-10 after the first quarter of play.

Lulu McKinney was able to maneuver around a defender for a left handed layup to put UTEP up 23-15 at the 5:14 mark of the second quarter despite UTEP having more turnovers than ACU at that point, but the Wildcats started the game 4-of-21 from the field.

ACU would finish the half 1-of-15 from the field, but 11 first half turnovers by UTEP kept the Wildcats within striking distance with UTEP taking a 30-23 lead into halftime.

UTEP battled first half foul trouble with guards Starr Breedlove, Cameasha Turner, and Sparkle Taylor each picking up two fouls in the first half, helping ACU get to the free throw line 14 times in the opening half.  The Miners outscored ACU 22-2 in points in the paint in the first half to extend their seven point halftime lead.

The third quarter turned into a physical slugfest, with UTEP holding on to a 43-41 lead after the quarter.

ACU matched their first half free throw attempts with 14 in the third quarter, and Alexis Mason knocked down a triple from the top of the key right before the end of the third quarter to cut UTEP's lead heading into the final ten minutes.

But Jenzel Nash helped UTEP open up an eight point lead in the opening minute of the fourth.

Nash ripped the ball away from Syndey Shelstead inside the paint, and led a fast break finding a streaking Starr Breedlove for a layup as UTEP scored six straight to open a 49-41 lead with 8:57 left in the quarter.

Although ACU would answer with a 9-0 run to take their first lead of the game after Mason made a post move and was able to get inside for a layup, putting the Wildcats up 50-49 with 6:33 left in the game.

UTEP was able to force four turnovers in a three minute span, and got back-to-back buckets by Breedlove, and Sparkle Taylor to take a 58-53 lead with 2:16 to go, and ACU shooting right at 25 percent from the field.

At that point, UTEP was 5-of-17 from the free throw line, but finished 8-of-9 from the free throw line in the final minute to finally close out the hard fighting Wildcats who had cut it to 64-62 with six seconds left.

Breedlove led UTEP with 16 points, Turner added 12 points, and seven rebounds, while Tamara Seda pitched in 10 points, and 11 rebounds.  UTEP finished 13-of-26 from the free throw line, and outscored ACU 25-7 in points off the bench.

UTEP shot 44.1 percent from the field, and held ACU to 27.6 percent shooting for the game.

The rebounding race ended in a 44-all tie, ACU kept themselves at bay with six 3-pointers, but the Miners got it done inside the paint with using three forwards most of the game for a 44-18 advantage in the game.

Next up is the WNIT second round in which UTEP will host Arkansas State Monday night 7:05 p.m. in the Don Haskins Center.