The University of Southern Mississippi fought back from an 11-point deficit in the third quarter, but could not overcome a 6 ½-minute cold streak down the stretch as the Lady Eagles fell 72-67 to the University of Texas-El Paso Wednesday in the opening game of the 2018 Conference USA Women’s Basketball Tournament.
The ninth-seeded Lady Miners (17-13) held a huge edge at the free-throw line, knocking down 21-of-25 attempts, while the eighth-seeded Lady Eagles (15-15) went 5-of-8 in the first of four games at the Ford Center.
USM sophomore point guard Shonte Hailes posted game highs of 23 points and eight assists and in her final game as Lady Eagle, senior forward Jayla King scored 12 points and grabbed six rebounds.
But UTEP got balanced scoring, with five players scoring 10 points or more.
Senior forward Tamara Seda collected a double-double with a team-high 19 points and game-high 14 rebounds. Sophomore guard Faith Cook had 14 points and four assists, junior swingman Najala Howell added 13 points and four rebounds and junior swingman Jordan Alexander and sophomore forward Zuzanna Puc had 10 points and four rebounds apiece.
USM led by one, 15-14, after the first quarter, but UTEP grabbed a 31-27 halftime edge. The Lady Miners built the lead to 11 points twice in the third quarter, the second at 41-30 on a 3-pointer by Howell.
But the Lady Eagles struck back, going on a 20-1 run over the next 4 minutes, 37 seconds, to go up eight, 50-42. USM still led 52-44 after a King layup before UTEP tied the game with an 8-0 run.
USM led 54-52 at the end of the third quarter, and the teams swapped leads through the early part of the fourth quarter. The Lady Eagles led 58-57 after a jumper by junior swingman Megan Brown, but those were USM’s final points for a 6:34 stretch.
UTEP outscored the Lady Eagles 7-0 during that span to take a 64-58 lead. USM got back within 64-62 with 1:04 to play in the game on baskets by King and sophomore guard Alarie Mayze.
But UTEP knocked down 8 of 10 free throws in the final minute to hold the Lady Eagles.
The Lady Miners will take on top-seeded University of Alabama-Birmingham (24-5) at 11 a.m. Thursday in the first game of the quarterfinals.
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