March 9, 2008
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ORLANDO, FLA. (SMU) - The SMU women's basketball team had met UTEP twice earlier this season, and each time, the Miners won a hard-fought battle with the Mustangs. But when it mattered most - in Sunday's Conference USA Tournament championship game - it was the Mustangs (24-8) who stood their ground, beating their conference rivals, 73-57, to win their first conference championship since 1999.
Senior center Janielle Dodds had 10 points and 11 rebounds - posting her eighth double-double of the season and her 38th of her career - en route to earning tournament Most Valuable Player honors. Sophomore Brittany Gilliam scored a team-high 20 points, and senior Sharee Shepherd - who joined Dodds on the all-tournament team - added 17.
Three SMU seniors - Dodds, Shepherd and guard Katy Cobb - were instrumental in the victory, and head coach Rhonda Rompola said it was only appropriate that their most experienced players led the team to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in eight years.
"I have talked all year about our seniors leading us, leading this team," Rompola said after earning her eighth postseason berth since taking over as the Mustangs' head coach in 1991-92. "If there ever was a time when our seniors needed to lead this team, it was today."
Dodds and Shepherd have been among the most consistently productive Mustangs all season. Cobb came off the bench to score 11 points, but more importantly, spent the afternoon harassing UTEP guard (and Conference USA Player of the Year) Jareica Hughes. When Hughes - widely regarded as the fastest player in Conference USA - stole the ball early in the first half and headed downcourt for what appeared to be an easy layup, Cobb chased her down from behind, blocked her shot and sent her to the floor with a hard foul, effectively setting a tone for the physical defense the Mustangs would play throughout the game.
Some numbers of note:SMU has won 24 games for the first time in school history
The Mustangs are 16 games over .500 for the first time ever
Dodds posted her eight double-double of the season, and 38th of her career (more than double the total of any other Conference USA player)
Dodds extended her SMU records to:
- 1,846 points
- 969 rebounds
- 960 free throws made
Shepherd, the 2007-08 Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year, had four more steals, giving her 14 in the tournament
She has 98 this season - breaking the former SMU record of 97
She has 250 in her career - moving her into second place all-time