The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Morgan Shiver, Contributor • June 20, 2024

Mustangs are conference champions

Women defeat UTEP 73-57, earn NCAA bid

ORLANDO, Fla. – The Mustangs handed the UTEP Miners their first conference loss of the season, and it earned them the Conference USA Championship.

The Mustangs took an early lead and led throughout the first half. But surge from the Miners in the second half gave UTEP an eight-point lead with 12 minutes left in the game.

From that point on the Mustangs turned it on again and came out with the 73-57 win.The conference championship is the first for the Mustangs in almost 10 years and the Mustangs will earn a NCAA bid for the first time since that same 1999-2000 season.

“It’s been a bit of a drought, but it means the most because of the seniors,” SMU head coach Rhonda Rompola said. “It’s one of the closest teams that I’ve coached.”

The team returned all five starters and five seniors to the team including Janielle Dodds and Sharee Shepherd. Shepherd was named to the all-tournament team and Dodds was named MVP of the tournament.

In the tournament SMU played two teams that had defeated them twice during the regular season, UTEP and Tulsa. The Mustangs defeated Tulsa in the quarterfinals and UTEP in the finals.

“We wanted to play Tulsa and UTEP hopefully, the teams that have beaten you twice,” Dodds said. “I can’t explain the fire my teammates had in this tournament.”

The Mustangs jumped out to an 8-0 lead and the SMU defense didn’t allow the Miners to score until five minutes into the game. The Mustangs maintained a lead throughout the first half and went into the locker room with a 25-20 lead.

UTEP’s Izabela Piekarska kept the Miners in the game scoring 14 of UTEP’s 20 first half points including two three-point shots. Piekarska also pulled down six rebounds in the first half alone.

After the Mustangs scored five quick points at the beginning of the second half and taking a 10-point lead, UTEP went on an 18-0 run that lasted seven minutes and gave the Miners a 38-30 lead with 12:41 left in the half.

“I felt like we were playing not to lose, to protect the lead for a while,” Rompola said.

But the Mustangs would respond.

Sparked by a Brittany Gilliiam three-point shot, the Mustangs went on a 17-0 run of their own to retake the lead. The run saw five different Mustangs score including another three-pointer from Katy Cobb.

The final 22 of 24 points scored by the Mustangs came from the free throw line. SMU made a conference tournament record 29 free throws, 27 of which came in the second half. The Mustangs finished the game going 29-33 from the line.

The Mustangs led the league in free throws making 76.7 percent of free throws, including conference-leading Dodds who made 86.6 percent of her free throws during the season. But Rhompola expressed displeasure with the way the team shot free throws during the last two weeks of the season.

“At the end it was different,” Rompola said, “watching Sharee [Shepherd] shoot watching Brittany Gilliam shoot and [Katy] Cobb there was just so much confidence at the free throw line.”

The Mustangs finished the game scoring 10 straight points from the free throw line.

SMU will find out who and where they will play in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday.

“I’ve had the opportunity to be there as a player and a coach and I wanted these guys to go out in style,” Rompola said.

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