Whenever the Seniors of a program are announced at their final home game it is a bittersweet moment. Fans, players, and coaches all think of how they have built bonds and memories that will last for lifetimes. It is natural to think back on all of the good times, and maybe, just maybe, think about the “what might have beens”. As tight as this team has been and is, the way that Coach Adams coaches “team play”, I would have to think that this season’s team success has to pretty much erase any thoughts of any regrets. The seven ladies who saw their final action in a UTEP iniform on Sunday each had their times to shine individually, and as a team. None of those were any bigger than capping off their college careers with a regular season conference championship.
The Seniors had their presentation before the game.
The next item on the agenda was to beat the Rice Owls, in front of a big, rowdy, Miners’ crowd in the Don Haskins Center to continue the celebration.
The starting lineup was introduced.
The Miners, as they did the game before, started off with a turnover. Rice’s Briana Hypolite hit a three pointer shot down on the other end. UTEP, immediately got things back to the way they were supposed to be, with two points from Anete Steinberga, and a three pointer by Thornton that passed dead center through the hoop.
UTEP’s Kelli Willingham fouled Rice’s Jessica Goswitz to prevent an easy layup, and two points. Goswitz missed both free throws. On the other end, Steinberga missed an open little scoop shot that she would make nine out of ten times. The Owls missed a shot, UTEP turned the ball over, and Kayla Thornton provided the play of the day. With an Owl player loose on a break away, the six foot tall forward that moves like a guard came roaring up to block the shot, and in the process crashed into the basketball stanchion. She gathered herself with a deep breath, bounced to her feet, and was back at work the next moment, stretching some kinks out and inspecting her body for any outward signs of damage.
The teams traded made shots, before Gloria Brown hit a sweet outside jump shot, and then grabbed a rebound and took it for a layup. The game clock showed 15:30 left in the first half, and the Miners were up 11 to 5.
My game notes show the first sign that something wasn’t quite right. I noted that both teams were playing at a very fast pace, both seemed to want to push the ball. But, I looked at the score and my game notes, and Rice had only 5 points with over six minutes of the game ticked away. The Miners were shooting 71 percent, and the Owls were being held to just 20 percent from the field. I also noted that Rice’s #5, Gowitz would make coffee nervous. She was everywhere, like a knat, bouncing around, seemingly randomly, and generally annoying as could be.
Gloria Brown scored, and Warren forced a turnover, but Rice’s Hypolite answered with a three. The teams traded turnovers. Brown blocked a shot and Vitola was fouled to prevent the layup. Bown made a steal, but missed the layup. Vitola grabbed the rebound, put up a shot that missed, grabbed her own rebound, and missed again.
Rice’s Megan Schafer made a three point shot, and with 11 minutes left in the half, the scoreboard read UTEP 15, and Rice 11.
My game notes say, “Miners a little out of sync. Missing a lot of open shots. Rice hitting some tough shots to keep them hanging in”.
But, I looked at the stats, and they seemed to reassure me, all except for the pesky fact that the score was pretty danged close. Rice was still just shooting 25% to UTEP’s 42.9%. Rice had 11 boards, but the Miners were right there with 10. Turnovers were even, at three each. So, the Miners were doing everything right. There had only been ten minutes played and the Miners are up by 4. Why was i even checking the numbers to find out where the problem was? What problem?
Another five minutes fell away from the clock, and the Miners held a 23-15 lead. Steinberga was playing tenacious defense! To be exact, the Miners were contesting everything! As the horn to signal the shot clock expired, Briana Green had just let a three pointer fly, and it was falling through the net. But, with 4 minutes showing, the Owls were still right there just five points back at 18 to UTEP’s 23.
Again, the stats seem to say the Miners were doing just what they should be doing. They had cooled a little to 40% shooting, but the Owls were being held to just 28% from the field. Rebounding was equal, at 16 each, as were turnovers at 6 each.
Then, with 1:46 seconds left in the first half, the Owls pulled to within four points at 26-22. UTEP used three passes to inbound the ball from under the Rice net and scored in the blink of an eye. With one half of the game played, the Miners held a six point lead.
Rice’s Jessica Kuster, who had been held to just 4 points in the first half, came roaring to life in the second half. Three minutes and 15 seconds into the half, the Owls had pulled even with the Miners at 30 points each, and a half minute later, the Owls pulled into the lead, 32 to 30.
I kept feeling like there was no reason to be concerned, as the Miners had been down many times before, and there was half a game to play yet. But, there was also the part of me that said that all those stats said that the Miners were doing everything right, and yet, they were now losing.
UTEP steal. Thornton layup.
Steinberga to the line, hits two, and the Miners pull to 34-36. With 14 minutes left, Steinberga turns, and hits a ten footer knotting the score at 36.
Kuster hit her shot from the foul line.
With 11:14 seconds left, the Owls hold a 42-37 lead.
Gloria Brown made a steal, and Erika Warren hit a shot, and the Miners were back to within two points at 40-42.
Kuster made two free throws.
Brown and Kuster trade baskets.
Thornton added a point to the Miners’ score, but Kuster added two to Rice’s.
The Miners’ pulled back to 46-48, blocked a Rice shot, and Willingham steaked up court with the ball, only to have her shot blocked.
The Miners had some opportunities, but failed to take advantage of them in the last few minutes.
Gloria Brown, with two free throws, brought the Miners to 48-50 with a minute to go in the game.
Jessica Kuster gave the Miners the chance they were looking for with a turnover. Kayla Thornton took off on a fast break but couldn’t convert. UTEP’s Chrishauna Parker grabbed the rebound, and was fouled by Rice’s Candace Ashford.
Parker missed both free throws, but Kayla Thornton grabbed the rebound.
UTEP called timeout, with 29.9 seconds left. The Miners inbounded the ball, but with 19.5 seconds left, Thornton was call for travelling. The final score was UTEP 48 and the Rice Owls 52.
This day that had started out as a joyful day of celebration with a touch of reflection of what might have been, just added a big thick layer. Although the game was meaningless in that the Miners already had the championship, it wasn’t they way the team expected to send their seniors off, and it sure put a damper on some of the festivities that followed the game, for some.
Coach Adams spoke to the team, and the fans after the game;
Then the players watched highlights of themselves;
Team Watching Team