ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- Jareica Hughes scored 33 points, helping UTEP (No. 24 ESPN/USA Today, No. 18 AP) beat Rice 80-71 in the Conference USA quarterfinals Friday night.
UTEP had never been ranked prior to Feb. 11, and their appearance in a semifinal will be the first in a conference tournament since 1995. The Miners, who have already set a school record for wins in a season, will play fifth-seeded Southern Miss on Saturday.The top-seeded Miners, who went undefeated through the conference regular season, trailed most of the game before taking a 43-42 lead at 13:43 in the second half. UTEP (26-2) had just one brief lead over the first 20 minutes, but trailed by as much as eight.Kadie Riverin scored 23 points to lead the Owls (14-18), and Valeriya Berezhynska added 16 points and eight rebounds. Maudess Fulton also had 15 points.Rice jumped out to a quick 14-6 lead at 12:14 in the first half, and UTEP shot an abysmal 12-of-31 from the field. Hughes, the league's most valuable player, had four points at the break, hitting only one field goal.The sophomore guard then scored 29 of her 33 in the second half, including going 11-of-11 at the free-throw line, as UTEP made 60 percent of its field goals over the final 20 minutes.Izabela Piekarska added 14 points for UTEP, and guard Kasia Krezel had 12 points.The Owls committed 13 turnovers in the second half, and shot poorly against a Miner defense that had eight steals and three blocks.