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March 29, 2014 at 9:05 AM

Record crowd means Washington travels for WNIT quarterfinal matchup Monday


UTEP C Kristine Vitola shoots a layup

Using social-media, word-of-mouth and wins, UTEP broke an attendance record for the right to host a fourth consecutive Women’s National Invitation Tournament game at Don Haskins Center. UTEP (27-7) will play Washington (20-13) on Monday at 6pm PT.

UTEP defeated Colorado 68-60 to advance.

The Miners lowered tickets to $4 for students and topped the price at $8 for general admission to help boost a program and WNIT-record 8,234 fans on Friday. Buffs coach Linda Lappe and her team were impressed, sophomore F Jamee Sawn adding the fans were the difference in the game. Swan finished with a team-high 15 points on 7 for 10 shooting from the field.

UTEP was the aggressor, outrebounding Colorado 43-26 overall and creating a 30-12 disparity in FT attempts. The Miners were 26-of-30 from the line while the Buffs were 5-of-12.

“The crowd was amazing,” Lappe told the El Paso Times. “Our players had such a great experience playing in front of that crowd. We don’t play in front of full arenas very often. And they really made it difficult. They affected how we started and they came through in the end.”

Reports said within minutes of the Miners’ win, the line at the UTEP Ticket Center for quarterfinal tickets stretched the length of a football field. The school gave away 100 free tickets to students. The Don Haskins Center has a 12,222-seat capacity.

“To have that atmosphere was what I’ve dreamed about and El Paso made it happen,” UTEP coach Keitha Adams said.

Washington has played before a hostile crowd this season in nearly beating No. 15 Texas A&M in College Station before 4,169 fans. UW upset No. 24 California in Oakland before 3,900 fans.

UTEP ranked third among 16 Conference USA teams in attendance during the regular-season, averaging 2,193 fans. The Miners hosted one conference tournament and lost to Southern Mississippi before 3,244 fans. But everybody loves a winner, UTEP drawing an average of 5,812 fans in three WNIT games.

UW likely would have hosted the quarterfinal matchup if Pac-12 rival Colorado would have won. Colorado averaged more regular-season fans than Washington (2,717) but only drew an average of 821 for two WNIT games in Boulder. UW, whose students are on Spring Break this week, averaged 1,126 fans in two WNIT games at Alaska Airlines Arena.

Washington’s Wednesday matchup against San Diego was the day after the school hosted the opening two rounds of the NCAA tournament, drawing an average of 1,747 for the three games. Ninth-seeded Oregon State was the only competing team within the Northwest region, helping to draw 2,214 fans for its opening-round matchup against C-USA champion Middle Tennessee on Sunday. In OSU’s second game Tuesday against South Carolina, the top seed in the Stanford region, there were 1,664 in attendance.

Washington averaged 1,891 fans during the regular-season, which ranked seventh in the Pac-12.

Part of being a champion is winning on the road, however. And UW could face a UTEP team without sophomore G Jenzel Nash, the team’s second-leading scorer (11.6 points). She was suspended shortly before the game Friday with no indication of when she’ll return. Nash was returning to play after suffering a season-ending ACL tear last year.

The Miners are led by senior Kayla Thornton (19.6 points). An El Paso native, the 6-foot-1 post had a rough scoring night against the Buffs. She was 3 for 15 from the field, finishing with 11 points. Senior C Kristine Vitola, who’s 6-4, led with 22 points, making 8-of-8 shots from the foul line.

Junior G Chrishauna Parker finished with a double double, totaling 10 points and 12 rebounds.

“Beast, that’s it,” Parker described herself to reporters. Her rebounding was key given UTEP’s 34.5 percent shooting. “I was a beast. I knew their game plan, ‘She’s going to rebound.’ But they couldn’t stop me. Beast.”

One advantage Washington will have is rested legs. The team was off Thursday and coach Mike Neighbors has kept practices light through the postseason. UPDATE: The Huskies traveled to Texas on Saturday.

Here’s video of the UTEP players celebrating another tournament win:

And video of Adams addressing the record crowd:

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