March 3, 2013
DALLAS (SMU) - The Mustangs clinched at least a share of the Conference USA regular season championship with a 73-71 win against UTEP Sunday in the home finale in Moody Coliseum Sunday, improving to 12-3 in league play and 21-7 overall.
Akil Simpson led the team to its third regular season title in program history (2000 and 2009), second in C-USA, with 19 points and nine rebounds. SMU's lone senior, Alisha Filmore, ended her career in Moody with 2 points, six rebounds and five assists.
However, as the SMU women's basketball program celebrated Senior Day before the game, it was a freshman who came up with the day's biggest moment. After Anete Steinberga, who finished with a game-high 25 points, scored for UTEP to tie the game 71-71 with 10 seconds left, Gabrielle Wilkins drove to the right of the lane and was fouled by Steinberga on a jump shot. Wilkins made both free throws to give SMU a two-point lead with six seconds left.
Kayla Thorton's 3-point attempt at the buzzer fell short, giving SMU the win. Destynee Hives-McCray put the Mustangs on top for good with 4:08 left, 69-67. The sophomore came down with an offensive rebound, kicked it back to the top of the key, and then made a layup on an assist by Keena Mays. SMU held UTEP to just four more points and zero rebounds in the last four minutes, and went 4-for-4 at the free throw line down the stretch.
The Mustangs led by as many as 11 points in the first half, but the Miners (19-9, 7-8 C-USA) cut the lead to six at halftime, 41-35. SMU stretched the lead back to double0digits just a minute and a half into the second half, but UTEP rallied all the way back to take a 65-64 lead with 5:38 remaining, creating a memorable finish in the final game of Moody Coliseum's current configuration.
Mays finished with 13 points, six rebounds, three assists, two blocks and two of SMU's seven steals. Wilkins went 7-for-10 at the free throw line to score nine points. Simpson was 7-of-10 shooting from the field and 5-of-6 at the charity stripe to come within one point of her season high.
SMU can clinch sole possession of the C-USA regular season title at Rice Thursday at 7 p.m. The Mustangs, who have clinched a bye in the first round, will begin play at the Conference USA Championships in Tulsa March 14.