Feb. 12, 2012
Danielle Blagg scored 18 points off the bench to lead three Green Wave players in double figures, but it was not enough as the Tulane University women's basketball team dropped an 80-65 decision to Conference USA leaders UTEP on Sunday afternoon at the Don Haskins Center.
The Miners hit 55.8 percent of their shots for the game (15-of-29), including a 14-of-23 performance in the second half (.609), and held a commanding 45-28 edge in rebounding. The loss snapped a six-game winning streak for the Green Wave, who fell to 18-6 on the year and 7-4 in league play. UTEP, meanwhile, won its 12th consecutive contest to improve to 22-2 overall and a perfect 11-0 in C-USA action.
"Coaches always focus on their own teams, but they were phenomenal," Tulane head coach Lisa Stockton said. "They were on fire. Players were coming down and we stopped this one and we stopped that one, but you've got someone who averages four points a game (Erika Warren) and she gets 20 today and they were legitimate. She hit shots.
"You just can't physically guard somebody like (Gloria) Brown and have the other players be as hot as they were today. Our offense did a lot of good things. We kept up with them and stayed in there. Our offense wasn't the problem. We just couldn't stop them."
The Miners scored the first five points of the game and Tulane answered with a 5-0 run of its own to tie things up. The Green Wave however, were never able to take a lead at any point, marking the first time Tulane let an opponent lead from start to finish since an 83-76 loss to Portland State on Nov. 2, 2010, in the opening day of the Colliers International Classic in Berkeley, Calif.
Nine of Blagg's points came via 3-pointers and she also finished five-of-six from the free throw line in 17 minutes of work. Junior guard Olivia Grayson finished second on the team with 17 points while fellow junior guard Tyria Snow scored 11. Senior center Brett Benzio had a team-best eight rebounds to go with eight points, one block and a steal. Grayson paced the squad with six assists and three steals.
The Green Wave defense forced 18 turnovers - 11 of which came via steal - and turned the Miners' miscues into 23 points. UTEP, however, outscored Tulane in the paint, 37-20, and turned 10 offensive rebounds into 12 second-chance points.
"There are times when you talk you're defense has to be better, and there are definitely some things I wish we would have done a lot of things better, but they just hit some amazing shots," Stockton said. "We had a chance to get back in there sometimes, but they hit free throws, they got rebounds off missed free throws and they were so physical. They just dominated the boards in the second half.
"In the first half, the game was close because we stayed in there for rebounds. In the second half, they just dominated the boards and we can't let that happen. If we want a chance to beat a team like this, we've got to be better on the boards."
The two teams traded the first 10 points of the game and a Kayla Thornton put the Miners on top with a steal and fast-break layup to give UTEP a 7-5 lead it would not relinquish. The Miners led by as many as 11 twice in the first half with the latest coming at 24-13 with 8:53 to go in the stanza. From there, Tulane went on a 9-0 run to cut the deficit to a pair 2:06 later.
UTEP, however, answered with an 8-3 rally to go back up by seven and a 3-pointer by Melisa Mendez put the Miners on top by seven again at 38-31 with 54 seconds remaining before the break. Snow hit a trey of her own the next time down the court to make it 38-34 at halftime.
Tulane hung tough early in the second half and junior forward Janique Kautsky made it a five-point ballgame with a 3-pointer 2:16 into the stanza, but that was as close as the Green Wave would get the rest of the way. A trey by UTEP's Kristine Vitola the next time down the floor sparked an 18-4 Miners run over the 5:18 to stake the home team to a commanding 62-43 advantage.
The Green Wave refused to go away quietly and cut the deficit down to nine at 72-63 with 2:02 left to play. UTEP, however, hit six-of-7 free throws down the stretch to account for the final score.
"When we got it to nine, I thought we could have taken some better shots in those situations, but I think I'm really getting picky now," Stockton added. "We got some steals and we got some good looks but they just didn't fall. We ended up shooting 36 percent for the game, but we were 45 or something until those last five minutes and then we had to take some quick shots. (UTEP is) a really good team and they are deserving of everything they've earned so far this year."
Erika Warren led UTEP with a game-best 20 points after connecting on 7-of-8 field goals - including a 2-for-2 showing from beyond the 3-point arc - and all four of her free-throw opportunities. Vitola was next with 14 on the strength of a 5-for-5 showing from the field, a 2-for-2 outing from 3-point land and a 2-for-3 performance from the charity stripe.
Syerra Davis led UTEP with eight rebounds, Kim Smith had a team-high five assists and the duo of Thornton and Kelli Willingham each had a pair of steals for the Miners.
Tulane returns to action on Thursday, Feb. 16, when it plays host to Rice at 7 p.m. in Fogelman Arena. For tickets to that game and future Green Wave home events, contact the Tulane Athletics Ticket Office either in person, over the phone at 504-861-WAVE (9283) or via the Internet at www.TulaneGreenWave.com. The Ticket Office located on the first floor of the James W. Wilson, Jr. Center on Ben Weiner Drive, is open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.