Tulane women topple UTEP

Advocate staff photo by LIBBY ISENHOWER -- LSU's Sheila Boykin and Tulane's Brittany McDonald struggle for possession of the ball Sunday at Pete Maravich Assembly Center.  MAGS OUT / INTERNET OUT/ONLINE OUT/NO SALES/TV OUT/FOREIGN OUT/LOUISIANA BUSINESS INC. OUT/GREATER BATON ROUGE BUSINESS REPORT OUT/225 OUT/10/12 OUT/IN REGISTER OUT/LBI CUSTOM PUBLICATIONS OUT/MANDATORY CREDIT THE ADVOCATE/ LIBBY ISENHOWER.
Advocate staff photo by LIBBY ISENHOWER -- LSU's Sheila Boykin and Tulane's Brittany McDonald struggle for possession of the ball Sunday at Pete Maravich Assembly Center. MAGS OUT / INTERNET OUT/ONLINE OUT/NO SALES/TV OUT/FOREIGN OUT/LOUISIANA BUSINESS INC. OUT/GREATER BATON ROUGE BUSINESS REPORT OUT/225 OUT/10/12 OUT/IN REGISTER OUT/LBI CUSTOM PUBLICATIONS OUT/MANDATORY CREDIT THE ADVOCATE/ LIBBY ISENHOWER.

NEW ORLEANS — Olivia Grayson never found her shooting touch from the field Thursday night against UTEP.

But if there’s two things Grayson can do, it’s handle the ball during pressure-filled moments and make free throws.

Grayson, Tulane’s senior guard, overcame 1-for-4 shooting from the field heading into the final minutes at Delvin Fieldhouse to score 15 points, including the Green Wave’s final eight points of a 56-49 win.

“When I was sitting on the bench, coach (Lisa Stockton) said how we hadn’t been hitting free throws,” said Grayson, who made 11 of 12 free throws. “I knew when I got to the line I had to focus and be in a rhythm when I was shooting.”

Grayson finished 2-for-6 from the field.

Thursday’s game marked the first game between the two schools since UTEP defeated Tulane in the 2012 Conference USA championship game, sending the Green Wave to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament instead of the Women’s NCAA tournament, where it went as the conference champion.

On Thursday, the ball was in Grayson’s hands for the final minutes as Tulane tried to hold of UTEP, which had rallied from a deficit as large as 13 early in the second half to come within three with Kelli Willingham’s two free throws with 6:55 left.

But that’s where Grayson took over ball handling, pacing the Green Wave, which was playing with leading scorers Whitney Bibbins and Danielle Blagg on the bench. Grayson made two free throws with 6:49 left then after a steal by Adesuwa Ebomwonyi, scored on a jump shot, extending the lead to seven.

Every time UTEP countered with a score, it was Grayson to take the challenge of finding a way to score for the Green Wave.

Her effort allowed the Green Wave to improve to 17-4 overall and 6-2 in Conference USA.

Meanwhile, Tulane enjoyed one of its better defensive efforts of the season, holding UTEP forward Kayla Thornton to nine points on 4 for 13 shooting.

“This team is a very high-scoring team, and a very good rebounding team,” Stockton said. “To be able to beat them without our two leading scorers and also outrebound them, it’s a tremendous effort.”

Tulane outrebounded UTEP 49-43.

Tulane guard Jamie Kaplan scored 11 points, including a half-court shot to end the first half, giving Tulane a 32-21 lead. Forward Tiffany Dale added 10.

“Coach (Stockton) is always saying we need to make sure we step up and score those points while they’re out,” Dale said.

For UTEP, Willingham finished with a game-high 18 points.