Rutgers break UTEP hearts with 56-54 win in WNIT Final

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Michaela Roman

Senior Thornton, Willingham and Vitola get the WNIT runners-up trophy

Luis Barrio, Staff Reporter

The Rutgers Scarlet Knights claimed a 56-54 victory over UTEP in the WNIT championship game in front of a sold out crowd at the Don Haskins Center.

UTEP tied the game at 54 with a loose-ball recovery by Chrishauna Parker with eight seconds remaining. The Scarlet Knights then immediately inbounded the ball to their freshman guard Tyler Scaife went coast-to-coast for a layup with two seconds remaining to give Rutgers their first WNIT title.

“It’s tough coming out of that locker room right now,” head coach Keitha Adams said. “ It just stings because we were so close. We didn’t have enough offense tonight.”

To begin the game the Miners started solid. The seniors Kayla Thorton and Kristine Vitola both got UTEP up early 5-2 with just under 18 minutes.  This would turn out to be the largest lead for the Miners all game as the Knights responded with a 18-6 run.

At this moment in the game the zone defense for Rutgers completely disrupted the Miners flow. The Miners tried to get the ball into the interior but Rutgers closed that off.

At times the Miners looked stagnate and out of sync with each other. Rutgers would not allow any buckets, UTEP went 15 minutes of play without a field goal.

The Miners shot 18.2 percent from the floor in the first half. Had it not been for drawing so many fouls and getting into the bonus early, the Miners could have faced a greater halftime deficit than a 30-16 score.

“I was getting frustrated with myself. In the second half I kind of calmed down a little bit. It was affecting me in the first half,” Vitola said.

Eight made free-throws by the Miners kept its spirit up despite difficult shooting percentage.

The most prominent scorer in UTEP women’s history Kayla Thornton had her share of frustration in the first half as well. She was held to two points on 20 percent shooting.

“We were playing scared, we were playing tentative. I told the team ‘Lets go down fighting. Let’s not be scared and lets get aggressive,’” Adams said.

The Miners showed what kind of effort they had. They trailed by as much as 18 in the early minutes of the second half. It seemed like Miners had no more to give. Then the shots started falling and the defense stated grinding.

They forced nine-second half turnovers that elevated the level of play and went on a 20-5 run to close the gap to only three points with ten minutes to play in the game, but Rutgers was able to hang on and walk away with the title.

In a game that seemed to be decided early, turned out to be an unveiling of the kind of effort and heart this squad possess.

“What happened these past two weeks has been amazing,” Adams said. “I’m proud of our team and I’m proud of El Paso.”

Luis Barrio may be reached at [email protected]