Feb. 7, 2013
NEW ORLEANS - From the start of preseason practice, Tulane University head women's basketball coach Lisa Stockton felt one of the strengths of her team heading into the 2012-13 season would be its depth. That feeling proved to be more than accurate on Thursday as the short-handed Green Wave defeated Conference USA foe UTEP, 56-49, in Devlin Fieldhouse.
With leading scorers Whitney Bibbins and Danielle Blagg sidelined due to illness, Tulane got a 15-point effort from senior guard Olivia Grayson, an 11-point showing from sophomore guard Jamie Kaplan and a double-double performance from sophomore forward Tiffany Dale. Dale had 10 points to go with a game-high 12 rebounds.
The win was the third in a row for Tulane, which improved to 17-4 overall and 6-2 in league play. UTEP, meanwhile, dropped its second-straight ballgame to fall to 17-4 on the year and 5-3 in C-USA action.
"We're a team so when somebody goes out - whether it's our top rebounder or top scorer - somebody has to step up," Grayson said. "That's really been our mindset this whole season. If somebody else is out, somebody has to step up. Of course, we missed those guys on the court with us so we played even harder for them and got the `W'."
Tulane scored the first five points of the game, led by as many as 12 points in the first half and held a 13-point advantage at 34-21 just under two minutes into the final frame. UTEP, however, stormed back to make a three-point ballgame at 39-36 with 6:55 to play but could get no closer. A big reason for that was the free throw shooting of Grayson, who connected on 11-of-12 chances from the charity stripe of the final 6:49 to salt the game away.
The Green Wave shot a season-low 28.1 percent from the field (18-fo-64), including a 5-of-28 showing in the second half (.179). The difference in the game came via the defense as Tulane held the Miners to 18 points below their season average while out-rebounding UTEP - which entered the night tops in C-USA in rebounds (45.3) and rebounding margin (+8.3), 49-43.
Tulane's defense forced 15 turnovers on the strength of nine steals and turned the UTEP miscues into 15 points. While UTEP used its size to outscore the Wave 24-18 in the paint, Tulane turned 22 offensive rebounds into 11 second-chance points to pick up its first win over the Miners in the last five meetings.
Grayson was second to Dale on the team in rebounding with nine, to go with two assists, one steal and a block. Dale, meanwhile, posted three blocks, one steal and an assist to her double-double performance. Kaplan led Tulane with three assists and sophomore forward Adesuwa Ebomwonyi came off the bench to post a game-high three steals.
"I thought we went out there and played defense about as well as we've played all year," Stockton said. "(UTEP) is a very high-scoring team and a very good rebounding team. To be able to beat them without our two leading scorers, and also out-rebound them, was a tremendous effort.
"Tiffany Dale has had two of her better games back-to-back from Houston to here. We've got some great players. Adesuwa came in and gave us some great minutes. She was really key. I thought Jamie Kaplan ran the show very well tonight. There were other players that came in and did good things. You want a team that is not dependent on one person or two people, and we showed that we are that team now."
The Green Wave opened the game red-hot offensively, hitting six of their first eight shots over the first four minutes to streak out to a 15-5 lead. Tulane's lead swelled to 23-11 on an Ebomwonyi free throw 5:31 later, and UTEP whittled the lead down to four at 23-19 and again at 25-21. From there, Ebomwonyi and Dale hit layups in consecutive trips down the court, and Kaplan nailed a half-court 3-pointer as the first-half horn sounded to send the home team into the locker room on top by 11.
Dale opened the second-half scoring with a layup at the 18:13 mark and Tulane seemed to hold a comfortable lead at 36-25 on an Ebomwonyi basket with 15:31 left to play. That bucket, however, would be Tulane's last for a span of 9:20 and the Miners used an 11-3 run during that time to make it a three-point game with just over seven minutes remaining in regulation.
After sinking her first two free throws, Grayson broke the field-goal drought with a jumper with 6:11 on the clock to make it 43-36 and the lead never dipped below four the rest of the way. Clinging to a 51-47 lead with 1:01 left to go, Grayson created some breathing room with four more free throws. UTEP's Kelli Willingham made things interesting with a jumper at the 30-second mark to make it 55-49, but Tulane held the Miners scoreless the rest of the way and Grayson added her final free throw with 17 seconds remaining to account for the final score.
"I think the one thing with Olivia Grayson is she does so many things well," Stockton added. "You talk about her rebounding and her free throws that iced it for us. Also her assists. She does so many things with her floor game that people don't always realize.
"I'm disappointed when anyone else goes to the line because (Grayson is) so good and I know that she's ice there. We want her to have those at the end of the game and she certainly didn't disappoint us."
The Green Wave return to action on Sunday, Feb. 10, when they travel to Oklahoma to face league foe Tulsa at 2 p.m. in the Donald W. Reynolds Center. That game will be televised nationally on the Fox Sports Network. From there, Tulane will open a two-game homestand on Feb. 14 against Rice in Devlin Fieldhouse.
For tickets that game, as well as future Green Wave events, contact the Tulane Athletics Ticket Office. The Ticket Office is located on the first floor of the Wilson Center on Ben Weiner Drive, and tickets can be purchased in person, over the phone at 504-861-WAVE (9283) or via the Internet at www.TulaneGreenWave.com.