UTEP C-USA Old Dominion Women’s Basketball Upset Top, 53-48

The UTEP women’s basketball team had every excuse for another fourth quarter stumble on Saturday against Old Dominion.

This time they won’t have to use them.

Playing Conference USA’s top team, Old Dominion, two days after a fourth quarter slump against Charlotte attributed to the 10-day COVID layoff, the Miners scored the final five points in the final 65 seconds to win a 53-48 win.

UTEP's Brenda Fontana (55) cheers for her team during a women's basketball game against ODU on Saturday, January 15, 2021 at the Don Haskins Center in El Paso.

The win ended Old Dominion’s nine-game winning streak and improved the Miners to 10-4 overall and 2-2 in Conference USA. An ODU team that did not score in the 2:31 final after tying the game at 48-48 fell to 11-3.

what they said

“Rebounding against such a great team, watching our kids execute the game plan, I was impressed with our kids down the stretch in the fourth quarter,” coach Kevin Baker said. “When things got closer, we executed well and had timely saves. It’s something I’ve been preaching to our kids all year, we have to stop when we have to stop.

At the end of the game, UTEP got four of them to win. Teal Battle, Destiny Thurman and Katia Gallegos had steals on back-to-back possessions and Old Dominion missed a contested 3-pointer with 6 seconds left to seal it.

“We wanted to do something a little different where it wouldn’t tire us out, but we still wanted to put pressure on them,” said Battle, who had two game-clinching free throws and finished with 15 points. “We had a different mindset, keeping the pressure on without getting tired. The defense we had was really effective and it showed on the pitch.”

How did it happen

The start of the fourth quarter looked like a repeat of Thursday’s loss, as an eight-point run by Old Dominion cut a nine-point deficit to 39-38. But an ODU team that didn’t lead for the last 27 minutes could never go forward.

After a four-point run from Monarch tied at 48-48 with 2:32 remaining, they were done scoring.

Gallegos didn’t have a good offensive game at the time, but with everything on the line, she broke in, fouled out, and sank a seven-footer with 1:05 left for the game-winning field goal. Her free throw put UTEP ahead 51-48, then she stole the other end to put ODU against the wall.

Following:Destiny Thurman thrives as a sophomore leader with UTEP women’s basketball team

“Patience, we’ve come a long way in the fourth quarter,” said Gallegos, one of six players who had COVID last week, a group that included Battle. “In defense we communicated. (Against Charlotte) it was the first time I came back from the seven-day break. Our communication was better and playing hard got us this win.”

defend the story

UTEP held Old Dominion to 15 points in the first half and 39% shooting for the game. The Miners forced 16 turnovers, which helped them overcome 20 of their own.

One difference between that game and Charlotte’s loss was that UTEP didn’t push, a conditioning concession lost during the COVID-19 layoff. Baker blamed his decision to push for the loss to Charlotte, and UTEP on Saturday looked much cooler late than two days earlier.

Then there was Brenda Fontana.

Playing without center Elina Arike, who may return from COVID-19 protocol for Monday’s trip to Southern Miss, UTEP got a career-best game from replacement rookie Fontana. Fontana scored 12 points on 5-of-5 shooting and had seven rebounds before committing a foul.

“I can’t describe Brenda Fontana’s height today,” Baker said. “Elina Arika is a big piece of our puzzle and her absence hurts us. But when Brenda comes out and plays big like this, it’s hard to believe she’s a freshman.

“I look up at the critical moment and we had two freshmen and two sophomores in the field, and old mom Teal. That says a lot about the direction of our program.

“I couldn’t be prouder.”

Following

UTEP has a quick turnaround to play a rescheduled match at Southern Miss Monday. Tipping is fixed at noon.

Old Dominion also has a catch-up game on Monday against Florida Atlantic.

Bret Bloomquist can be reached at 915-546-6359; bbloomquist@elpasotimes.com; @Bretbloomquist on Twitter.

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