Techsters down UTEP for first conference win
RUSTON, La. – UTEP entered Saturday afternoon’s match-up against Louisiana Tech as one of the top defensive teams in Conference USA.
No one told Louisiana Tech.
The Lady Techsters (9-5, 1-2 C-USA) shot a season-high 54 percent from the field, hit a season-high 11 three-pointers and handed the Miners (10-5, 3-1 C-USA) their first league loss of the season with an 87-80 victory before 1,349 fans at the Thomas Assembly Center.
“It starts with our energy and dour effort,” said Tech head coach Brooke Stoehr. “We talk about playing as a team and being really sharp and when we share the basketball really good things happen. We had a number of possessions Thursday night where we weren’t connected. We talked about that leading up to today. I just want this group to continue to grow and get better and understand when we play together, we can be really good.
“I think UTEP is really solid. They have kids that can shoot it at all five possessions and they are really difficult to guard. They know what they want to run and they are very disciplined in their attack. They play really hard. It was really good for us to bounce back today and protect home court, but to also get a win against a very good UTEP team.”
In a fast paced, high energy contest that saw both teams get up and down the floor and press for most of the 40 minutes, Louisiana Tech made plays down the stretch to win. And they showed the toughness that Stoehr has been preaching.
With Tech leading 81-77 with just over three minutes to play, junior point guard Amber Dixon went down in a pile. She had to be helped off the court by Tech athletic trainer Mandy Miller.
Just 11 seconds later, junior guard Raizel Guinto picked up her fifth foul of the game. Dixon immediately re-entered the game and helped Tech maintain its lead until she fouled out with 51 seconds remaining to play.
“Dixon cracked a tooth,” said Stoehr. “What unbelievable toughness. She can barely open her mouth but comes right back in to lead us when Raizel fouled out. Toughness was a big word for us today. We talked all week about the game honors toughness. Toughness doesn’t always come from a physical sense, but sometimes it does.”
For the second straight game, sophomore Keiunna Walker was the offensive star for Tech, pouring in a career-high 28 points on 10-of-14 shooting while also registering a career-high six steals. She was also 8-of-9 from the free throw line.
“The one thing we forget she hasn’t played a lot of basketball,” said Stoehr. “She is a phenomenal athlete. She is really hard to keep in front of your as a defender. We have to keep her playing with her eyes up. I thought she had a number of really good plays where she drove and eliminated their help defense. I thought she played under control and with balance. I thought she was really solid today.”
Walker wasn’t the only star for Tech in the win. Freshman Lotte Sant took only three shots but made a trifecta of huge three-pointers in critical moments. With Tech trailing 43-36 early in the third quarter, Sant made back-to-back three-pointers to close the gap to one and get the momentum back with the Lady Techsters.
But her biggest shot of the game came with less than two minutes to play. With Tech clinging to a one possession lead, Sant drained her third shot from down town to push the lead to 84-78 with 1:51 remaining.
“We want her to shoot the basketball. She is so unselfish and passes up a lot of shots. We needed one today. We needed that spark and she gave it to us. We hit 11 three’s today and it was off ball reversal. It was big for Lotte and big for us.”
UTEP entered the game allowing opponents only 57 points per game and limiting them to just 36 percent field goal percentage and just 21 percent from the three-point line. Tech hit 28-of-52 field goals and 11-of-22 three-pointers in the victory.
Grayson Bright added 14 points and a career-high six assists while Guinto scored 13 points and Dixon added 12 points.
Tech returns to action Thursday when it travels to face Rice at 7 p.m.
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