March 10, 2012
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Junior guard Olivia Grayson led four Green Wave players in double digits with 14 points, and senior center Brett Benzio pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds, but it was not enough as the Tulane University women's basketball team came up short to top-seeded UTEP, 69-65, in the 2012 Conference USA Championship title game on Saturday evening at the FedEx Forum.
Tulane held a 12-point lead with 15:13 to play, but UTEP used a 17-4 run over the next 7:27 to go ahead 51-50. The Green Wave scored the next seven points to go back on top 58-51 with 5:47 to go only to see the Miners out-score an upset-minded Tulane team 18-7 the rest of the way to come away with the win.
With the loss, Tulane falls to 22-10 on the year and must now wait until Monday to learn of its postseason fate. UTEP, meanwhile, improved to 29-3 and earned the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Grayson and freshman guard Danielle Blagg were named to the C-USA Championship All-Tournament Team and were joined by the UTEP tandem of Gloria Brown and Kayla Thornton as well as Southern Miss' Jamierra Faulkner. Brown was named MVP after scoring 18 of her game-high 20 points in the second half.
"I think we were in control most of the game," Tulane head coach Lisa Stockton said. "I thought it was a tremendous effort on our kids' part. (Gloria Brown) just took over. For a few possessions there, the ball just didn't bounce our way - whether it was a rebounds or just getting a stop. We just couldn't pull it in. I thought it was a great game and well played on both parts. UTEP did tonight what they've done in every game in the last five minutes. They've pretty much owned the last five minutes of games, and that's when they took it over tonight."
Blagg, junior guard Tyria Snow and freshman forward Adesuwa Ebomwonyi finished second to Grayson in scoring for the Green Wave with 11 each. Benzio shared team-high assist honors with Grayson and rookie guard Jamie Kaplan at three apiece, and Snow led the Tulane defense with three steals.
Tulane held UTEP to 35.5 field goal percentage in the first half (11-of-31), but UTEP finished the night with a .426 clip (23-of-54) after connecting on12-of-23 attempts (.522) after the break. The Miners defense held Tulane to just 11 baskets in the second half and a 39.7 shooting mark for the game (23-of-58). UTEP held a slight 36-34 edge in rebounding but turned 11 offensive boards into 13 second-chance points.
Tulane scored the first four points of the game before UTEP rallied to tie the game at 5-all. The two teams traded the next 16 points and Grayson sparked an 8-0 Tulane run with a pair of free throws. The Miners sliced the deficit to one at 23-22 with 4:48 to go before the break, but Tulane outscored UTEP 11-6 the rest of the way to go into the locker room on top 34-28.
After falling behind by a dozen just under five minutes into the second half, Kelli Willingham sparked the UTEP comeback with a 3-pointer. Following a Grayson layup to extend Tulane's lead to 11 on the ensuing possession, Brown tallied eight of the Miners' next 11 points and Chrishauna Parker put the Miners on top 51-50 with a trey at the 7:46 mark.
Tulane answered with consecutive baskets by junior forward Janique Kautsky, Kaplan and Ebomwonyi, and Benzio knocked down a pair of free throws to stretch the Green Wave edge to seven at 58-51.From there, the Miners went on a 9-2 runs as Brown scored five straight points, Warren nailed a pair of free throws and Kristine Vitola laid one off the glass to knot things up at 60-all.
UTEP went ahead for good when Brown hit a pair of free throws with 2:48 to go and stake the Miners to a 62-60 lead. Tulane cut the lead to one the next time down the floor when Blagg hit one-of-two free throw opportunities, and UTEP put the game away by converting seven free throws over the final 2:10 to account for the final score.
"For us, what we've done really well in this tournament is that we haven't played to the score," Stockton said. "We've just played. I thought we did that tonight. I thought we took the same shots when we were up 12 as well as when we were down two. I think (UTEP) just made some plays at the end."
Thornton finished second to Brown in the UTEP scoring column with 14 points while Erika Warren finished with 12. Three of Thornton's five field goals were from beyond the 3-point arc and she fell just one rebound shy of a double-double with nine. Warren and Kim Smith tied for team-high assist honors with four apiece. Brown, meanwhile, added 11 rebounds, three steals, a pair of blocks and an assist to her point total.