ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- Natasha Lacy scored 25 and Jareica Hughes 21 to help UTEP (No. 24 ESPN/USA Today, No. 18 AP) cruise to its first conference title game with a 86-69 victory over Southern Mississippi in a Conference USA tournament semifinal game Saturday night.
The top-seeded Miners, who have won 23 straight games, will face No. 2 Southern Methodist on Sunday.UTEP had never advanced past the semifinals and hadn't returned since a loss to Louisiana Tech in 2004. They went undefeated during conference play and broke into the Top 25 for the first time in program history on Feb. 11.Izabela Piekarska and Timika Williams scored 14 and 13, respectively, and the Miners (27-2) shot 33-of-60 for the game.Lacy and Hughes also combined for 14 rebounds, and Williams was 3-of-5 from 3-point range.The Miners had three players with 11 points in the first half.
UTEP rolled early, jumping out to a 13-6 lead and extending it to 29-16 with 8:04 left in the first half. The Miners used a 13-0 run -- from a final 3-pointer in the first to opening the second with 11 unanswered points -- to pull ahead and stay up by more than 14 for the rest of the game.The Golden Eagles (19-13) struggled, shooting just 13-of-24 in thr first half and 14-of-32 in the second. Southern Miss also committed 23 turnovers, including 14 in the first.Pauline Love led the way for the Golden Eagles, scoring 15 points on 5-of-15 shooting field, including five 3-pointers. Amber Eugene had 14, Liz Biland 11 and Kendra Reed 10.