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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Women’s hoops beats UTEP in C-USA Tournament

SMU womens basketball team raises the trophy after defeating the UTEP Miners in the Conference USA Tournament
Jordan Hofeditz
SMU women’s basketball team raises the trophy after defeating the UTEP Miners in the Conference USA Tournament

SMU women’s basketball team raises the trophy after defeating the UTEP Miners in the Conference USA Tournament (Jordan Hofeditz)

ORLANDO, Fla. – The Mustangs did something that no other Conference USA team could do all season: beat UTEP. The team also did it at the best time possible, in the final of the conference tournament.

After beating Tulsa in the quarterfinals and Marshall in the semi-finals, SMU took on and defeated UTEP to win the title.

SMU 68 Tulsa 49

The Mustangs did something in the quarterfinals of the Conference USA Tournament that they hadn’t done in the previous two games: win.

SMU lost the final two games of the regular season, but that didn’t stop them from making it to the semi-finals of the tournament with a 68-49 win over Tulsa Friday afternoon in the UCF Arena.

The Mustangs fixed the main problem they had in those two losses, defense. SMU gave up 76 points to the UTEP Miners and 71 points to Tulane. That was not the case against Tulsa who only managed 49 points against the Mustangs’ defense.

“Last weekend we didn’t play very good team ball, and when we don’t play good team ball we don’t win ball games,” SMU head coach Rhonda Rompola said. “Today we played team ball.”

But the emphasis on defense early led to a lack of offense as well. With 8:36 left in the first half, the Mustangs were down 17-15. SMU was settling for outside shots and not getting the ball down low. But in the final eight minutes of the game, the Mustangs turned on the offense.

Led by Delisha Wills and Janielle Dodds, the Mustangs went on a 16-0 run to finish the half with a 14-point lead and the game in control.

SMU 68 Marshall 59

After going on a 6-0 run to start the game, SMU allowed Marshall to come back on a 14-0 run. It took the Mustangs the rest of the game to get the lead back. But the team regained the lead with less than six minutes left and didn’t let go, moving on to the championship game with a 68-59 win.

“We always knew we weren’t ready to go home,” senior Sharee Shepherd said. “We knew that we deserve to be in the championship game.”

But with a 35-25 halftime deficit, that goal looked like it could be out of reach. Another 6-0 run to start the second half brought the Mustangs closer than they had been since the beginning of the game.

“What we felt like the second half was a time where we needed to wear them down,” SMU head coach Rhonda Rompola said.

Marshall was playing its third game in three days, with one of them extending into overtime.

The Mustangs also made one defensive adjustment: They changed to playing a zone defense to stop the quickness of Marshall’s guards Kizzy Hart and Casey Baker.

“We played more zone probably the second half than we’ve played all year, we’re more of a man-to-man, get in your face pressure team,” Rompola said.

But it worked and the defensive change allowed the Mustangs to slow down the Thundering Herd offense and allowed SMU to get back into the game.

The Mustangs did not shoot the ball well throughout the entire game, just 36.7 percent, but were able to hold Marshall to just 24 halftime points.

“I challenged our team at halftime,” Rompola said, “I challenged our guard and said what guard is going to step up and hit some outside shots.”

Jillian Samuels did just that.

It was her three-point shot that tied the game for the Mustangs with just over six minutes left in the game, and her second three that started a 9-0 SMU run and gave the Mustangs the lead for good.

SMU 73 UTEP 57

The Mustangs took an early lead and held it throughout the first half. But a 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 three-point shot from Brittany Gilliam, 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 Rompola 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 be the No. 12 seed in the Oklahoma City regional. It will face No. 5 seed Notre Dame in the first round in West Lafayette, Ind.

“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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