EL PASO, Texas -Courtney Taylor and Lesslee Mason each posted double-doubles to lead the 22nd-ranked University of Houston women's basketball team to a thrilling 68-64 victory over UTEP in the quarterfinals of the 2011 Buick Conference USA Championship, Thursday evening at Memorial Gymnasium.
Houston (26-4, 16-0) was able to triumph over the Miners (16-14, 7-9) in a contest that saw 18 ties and 24 lead changes, while neither team ever held a lead any higher than four points.
The Cougars received four clutch free-throws from Taylor and Jasmine Johnson in the final 29.7 seconds to break a tie game and send Houston to its school-record 17th-consecutive victory.
The Cougars limped into the locker room down 30-26 after UTEP ended the first half on a 5-0 run, capped off by a 3-pointer from Dietra Caldwell. Houston shot an icy 28 percent (8-of-29) from the field in the first half, including a 1-of-9 effort from 3-point range.
Houston stormed out of the break with a 10-3 run to take a 36-33 lead, as Taylor accounted for eight of the 10 points.
UTEP's Caldwell drained a huge trey to put the Miners back out front by a score of 43-41 with 8:43 left to play to the delight of an energized crowd, but Taylor followed with a tough bucket on the opposite end to pull back even. After a missed Taylor free-throw, Lesslee Mason grabbed the offensive board and dished to Brittney Scott, who snapped an 0-for-11 skid with a 3-pointer to give the Cougars a 46-43 lead.
After the Miners cut the margin back to one with two free-throws, Porsche Landry drove the lane and converted the layup as well as the ensuing free-throw to give Houston its biggest lead at 49-45 with 7:58 remaining.
UTEP wouldn't back down however, knotting the game back up at the 5:46 mark and taking a two-point lead with 3:30 remaining before Lesslee Mason stole a Miner pass and posted an old fashioned 3-point play.
Erica Warren, who scored 14 of her 18 points in the second half, got the roll on a jumper to tie the contest at 64 points apiece with 38.2 seconds left to play.
Taylor then drained two free-throws with 29.7 seconds remaining, and Warren just missed a game-tying jumper on the opposite end after having her shot altered by Houston's Zalika Dyson.
Lesslee Mason came down with the rebound and Johnson iced both shots from the freebie line to put the game out of reach with only 6.7 seconds remaining.
Taylor posted 22 points and 10 rebounds off an 8-of-16 effort from the field in 38 minutes of play.
Lesslee Mason added 19 points and 14 boards, highlighted by a 13-of-14 effort from the charity stripe.
Landry also scored in double figures for Houston with 13 points to go with a game-high six assists.
All Cougar fans are invited to attend a watch party hosted by Cougar Pride at Lucky's Pub (801 St. Emanule) at 12:30 p.m. CT on Friday as Houston takes on Tulane.
With Thursday's win, the Cougars move into the semifinals to face No. 4 seed Tulane at 12:30 p.m. (CST)/11:30 a.m. (MST) inside the Don Haskins Center. The Green Wave was an 83-72 winner against No. 5 seed East Carolina earlier in the day.
That game will be televised live on CBS College Sports with Tammy Blackburn calling the play-by-play action and Brett Stover providing analysis.
Fans also can hear the game live on UHCougars.com with Jeremy Branham calling the play-by-play action.
*Houston extended its school-record winning streak to 17 games, which also ranks as the second-longest streak in C-USA history.
*Houston claimed its sixth-consecutive win over UTEP to improve to 12-7 all-time against the Miners. The Cougars also claimed their second-straight victory over UTEP in the opening contest of C-USA Championship play.
*The Cougars improved to 26-4 overall this season, marking the second-best start in program history. The 26 wins also rank as a tie for second-most in a single season all-time at Houston.
*Houston improved to 10-13 all-time at the C-USA Championship dating back to 1997.
*The Cougars improved to 5-3 this season when trailing at the half.
*Senior forward Courtney Taylor registered her 60th-career double-double, which moved her into a tie for second place in C-USA history with Southern Miss' Pauline Love. It also was her team-leading 20th double-double of the season.
*Senior forward Lesslee Mason recorded her eighth double-double of the season and the 14th of her career.
*Going 13-of-14 from the free throw line, Mason set career highs in both free throws made and free throw attempts. She topped her previous high of nine free throws made against UTEP (Feb. 25, 2010) and her previous best of 12 attempts at UAB (Jan. 20, 2010).
*With 10 rebounds, Taylor moved into second place in Houston single-season history with 309 rebounds in 2010-11.
*Senior guard Brittney Scott climbed into seventh place in school single-season history with 492 field-goal attempts in 2010-11. Scott also moved into second place in Houston single-season history with 203 3-point field goal attempts.
*Scott made her 91st-consecutive start, which dates back to the start of the 2008-09 season.