Gutierrez’s clutch free throws, Freeman’s career help Tulane edge UCF, 61-59

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Erin Gutierrez had hit game-winning shots; Krystal Freeman scored a career-high 25

NEW ORLEANS – Tulane freshman Erin Gutierrez got her first career start against UCF on Wednesday night, but it was the way she finished the game that made all the difference.

With UCF in possession of the ball in a tie game with six seconds left on the clock, Gutierrez jumped in a Knight passing lane, stole the ball and got fouled as she tried to run up the court.

She made the most of her opportunity at the free throw line, draining both attempts to give Tulane a 61-59 victory over the league’s No. 2 team at Avron B. Fogelman Arena in the Devlin Fieldhouse.

Gutierrez finished the night with a career-best 10 assists, becoming the first Tulane player since current graduate assistant Leslie Vorpahl to have double-figure assists. Vorpahl’s last 10-assist night came on Feb. 27, 2017.

“I really liked the way we moved the ball,” Tulane coach Lisa Stockton said. “I thought everybody was a scoring threat, moved the ball and was able to attack. The nice thing about our team was we made plays down the stretch. I liked our rhythm. We attacked. We were aggressive.”

Tulane (15-9, 5-6 American Athletic Conference) has now surpassed its win total from all of last season, while UCF (20-4, 9-2) lost its first league game against a team not named UConn.

Gutierrez was far from the only player on the team with a huge stat line. Sophomore Krystal Freeman dominated on offense, setting a new career high with 25 points and adding 10 rebounds – eight offensive – to record her seventh double-double of the season and fourth in the last five games.

Freeman was incredible in the fourth quarter, scoring 12 of her 25 points in that period. Tulane began the fourth quarter trailing 45-43, but three Freeman baskets sandwiched around a Dynah Jones layup gave Tulane a 51-45 lead – its largest of the game – with 5:49 left to play.

UCF got right back in the game after that with leading scorer Kay Kay Wright converting an and-1 play, but Freeman answered right back with two more long-range jumpers to put Tulane ahead 55-48 with 3:13 on the clock.

The Knights and Green Wave traded baskets after that with Cheatham providing a toe-on-the-line 2-pointer to make it 57-50 with 2:37 remaining.

That’s when UCF got hot from downtown.

Sydnee McDonald made three 3-pointers in the final 2:30 – while Tulane got just one jumper from Freeman, setting up a tie game at 59-59 with 21 seconds to play. Tatyana Lofton missed a driving layup, setting up one last possession for the Knights. But that’s when Gutierrez jumped in front of a UCF pass, got fouled, and knocked down the game-winning free throws.

Kayla Manuirirangi and Jones had strong nights, finishing with 8 points apiece. Lofton scored 7 and filled up the stat sheet with four rebounds and three assists in 24 minutes. Freeman led the team with three blocks in her 39 minutes, and Gutierrez had a team-high three steals and just two turnovers against UCF’s constant full-court press.

Though she didn’t have a huge scoring night, Cheatham was second on the team with six rebounds and played excellent defense in her 30 minutes.

The teams battled to a 13-13 draw in the first period with UCF taking the early lead but Tulane getting back into it on 6 points from Freeman, 4 from Lofton and a 3-pointer from Manuirirangi. The Green Wave outrebounded the Knights 13-9 in the period and got eight of its points in the paint.

Things looked dire for Tulane at the start of the second quarter with the Knights heating up from the 3-point line and jumping out to a 10-point lead at 27-17 and a 30-19 lead with 3:10 left in the period. But from there, Tulane fought back to take the lead early in the quarter.

After that 30-19 UCF lead, Tulane went on a 16-2 run that spanned 4:30 of game clock between the second and third quarters. Lofton started the run with a 3-pointer, and Freeman added an and-1 play and another jump to make it 32-27 at halftime.

Then, to start the third quarter, the Green Wave scored the first 8 points to take a 35-32 lead. Manuirirangi had the first 5 of those points, sinking a 3 from the right corner and hitting an off-balance jumper as the shot clock expired. Gutierrez added a free throw, and Freeman followed with a jumper in the paint to give Tulane a narrow lead.

But UCF took a timeout and regrouped, scoring the next 8 points as Tulane’s offense went cold for five minutes. The Knights held a 45-37 lead late in the third quarter before Tulane scored the final six points of the period on a Jones layup, a Meredith Schulte jumper and two Cheatham free throws to make it just 45-43 entering the final period.

Next up is another home game for Tulane – its first back-to-back conference home games of the season – on Saturday when Memphis comes to town. Tipoff against the Tigers will be at 2 p.m. at Fogelman in Devlin.

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