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Jackrabbits WNIT Run Ends At UTEP

The stakes were never higher and the opposing crowd never bigger for South Dakota State in the Division I era Wednesday night in El Paso, as the Jackrabbits gave UTEP and a sellout crowd of 12,000 everything they had, coming up just short in the WNIT Final Four, losing 66-63

South Dakota State seemed unfazed by the atmosphere at the Don Haskins Center as they hit their first six shots, including four 3-pointers to lead by five after 4:30.  Mariah Clarin (5) and Hannah Strop (4) combining for nine of the Jacks first 14 points.

Megan Waytashek then got involved in the scoring with six points, and the SDSU lead was as many as nine with 5:00 to play first half.

The Jackrabbits red hot shooting did cool off considerably over the final 15:00 of the first half as SDSU went just 6-for-22 (27%), but defense and rebounding kept UTEP at bay as the Miners shot just 31 percent in the first half, while the Jacks won the battle of the boards 21-17 in the first 20 minutes to lead 30-26 at the break.

Seven different SDSU players scored in the first half, while Clarin pulled down seven rebounds.

UTEP senior Kayla Thornton, a first team All-Conference USA selection, was averaging 20 points a game coming in, but scored six in the first half on just 1-for-8 shooting.

Thornton wasted little time jump starting her game – and her team – in the second half as she hit a 3-pointer, picked up a steal, and added a layin – all in 32 seconds to give the Miners their first lead of the night at 31-30.

That set the stage for a 12:21 stretch of the second half where neither team lead by more than a basket. That changed when Thornton hit a pair of free throws with 4:18 to play opening up a 55-52 advantage.  Thornton finished the second half 5-for-12 with 14 points in the final 20 minutes, 22 points and 11 rebounds overall.

UTEP overcame 33 percent shooting from the floor with 17 more free throw attempts (30-13) and 14 more points (23-9) than from the line.  The Miners also forced 13 second half turnovers.

The lead was six in the final 30 seconds but the Jacks wouldn’t go away as Waytashek and Gabby Boever each hit late 3-pointers sandwiched around UTEP free throws to make it 66-63 in the final seconds.  SDSU had two final tries to send the game to overtime, but 3-pointers from Steph Paluch and Waytashek both missed the mark in the final five seconds to seal the Miners victory.

South Dakota State finishes the season 26-10 and sees Paluch, Tara Heiser, and Strop end their careers.

UTEP advances to the WNIT Championship game Saturday against Rutgers.

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