Lady Eagles roll past UTEP

Lady Eagles roll past UTEP
The Mississippi High School Activities Association basketball playoffs are now in the semifinal round, and eight teams from the Pine Belt are trying to play their way into championship games. (Photo source: Raycom Image Bank)

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - University of Southern Mississippi women's basketball coach Joye Lee-McNelis has been using the catchphrase "Fabulous February" of late to pave the Lady Eagles' way into "March Madness."

So far, the Lady Eagles have been darn near fabulous in February, with the last week of January thrown in for good measure.

Senior USM guard Brittanny Dinkins scored 26 points and the Lady Eagles stifled the visiting University of Texas-El Paso over the last 22 minutes of the game Saturday evening to run away to a 73-48 Conference USA victory over the Lady Miners.

By recording their largest margin of victory in conference play, the Lady Eagles (16-9, 8-4 C-USA) pocketed their fifth win in the six games since Jan. 26.

The victory also gave USM a season sweep of the Lady Miners (6-18, 3-9), who dropped their fourth consecutive game.

"We've talked about 'Fabulous February,' and that playing fabulous in February gives you an opportunity to have fun in March Madness," Lee-McNelis said. "Every game in February has to be a game where we elevate our play."

USM elevated its play over the final two minutes of the second quarter, through both the third and fourth quarters.

The Lady Eagles went on an 8-0 run over a 1:56 span to take a 39-29 lead into the locker room. USM limited the Lady Miners to six points in the third quarter to help push the lead to 19 points.

USM throttled the Lady Miners defensively, holding them to 28 percent shooting over the final two quarters, as UTEP scored the second-fewest points of the season against the Lady Eagles.

"We've definitely made some strides, made some improvements, over the past weekend, this Thursday and Saturday," Lee-McNelis said. "All in all, it was a very good performance against a very, well-coached team."

The Lady Eagles also dominated the boards, outrebounding UTEP 48-31, including 25 rebounds off the offensive glass.

"We practiced crashing the boards hard all week, and that's what we did (Saturday)," said senior forward Lyshra Cotton, who grabbed a career-high 12 rebounds, including five on the offensive end.

USM junior forward Jayla King added 13 points and seven rebounds, while freshman point guard Shonte Hailes finished with five assists, five rebounds and three steals.

Freshman forward Respect Leaphart added eight points and nine rebounds for the Lady Eagles.

UTEP was led by 16 points from senior guard Sparkle Taylor and 13 points and seven rebounds from freshman guard Jakeira Ford.

The win boosted the Lady Eagles into a three-way tie for fourth place in the C-USA standings. The top four seeds receive a first-round bye in the 2017 C-USA Women's Basketball Tournament on March 8-11 in Birmingham, Ala.

"Every game in February has to be a game where we elevate our play," Lee-McNelis said. "So, we're not going to stop, we're not going to be satisfied. We're just going to continue to press on and get better with every game."