March 14, 2013
TULSA, Okla. - When conference tournaments tip off annually in mid-March, the old adage is that the season starts anew for everyone, regular-season losses are looked on simply as learning experiences and everyone in the postseason field has a chance to call themselves champions if it can come together at the right time.
No team has lived up to that mantra more to date than UCF as the eighth-seeded Knights toppled regular-season champion and No. 1 seed SMU, 70-66, in the opening quarterfinal contest of the 2013 Conference USA Women's Basketball Championship on Thursday afternoon in the Tulsa Convention Center.
Trailing by as many as 10 in the first half and down seven at 52-45 with 9:31 left in regulation, the Knights went on a 9-0 run over the next 2:53 - including a pair of 3-pointers by C-USA Freshman of the Year Briahanna Jackson - and never trailed again. SMU tied the game four times down the stretch but could never hit a go-ahead basket. UCF broke a 62-62 deadlock on a Jackson jumper with 3:14 to go and hit 4-of-6 free throws over the final 33 seconds to put the game away.
With the win, UCF improves to 15-17 overall and advances to Friday's semifinals where the Knights will face either No. 4 seed UAB or fifth-seed UTEP at 10 a.m. (CDT) in the BOK Center. SMU, meanwhile, falls to 21-9 on the year and will await word of its postseason fate when the respective committees announce their tournament fields early next week. If the Mustangs do not receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, they will earn an automatic bid to the WNIT.
Guard Gevenia Carter led three UCF players in double figures with 20 points while Jackson had 18 and Sara Djassi finished with 15. Erika Jones paced the squad with 10 rebounds and shared team-high steal honors with Jackson at four apiece. In addition to her scoring total, Carter pulled down four rebounds, posted a pair of steals and handed out a team-best two assists.
As a team, the Knights hit 41.9 percent of their shots from the field (26-of-62), bouncing back from a 11-of-29 first-half performance (.379) to connect on 15-of-33 shots after the break (.455). SMU posted a .526 clip in the opening stanza (10-of-19), but fired at a 37.1 rate in the second half (13-of-35) to finish the day with a 42.6 field goal percentage. UCF held a slight 39-34 rebounding advantage, turned 14 offensive rebounds into 10 second-chance points, and held a 30-24 edge in points in the paint.
UCF scored the first four points of the game and held an 8-2 lead just over two minutes into the contest. SMU got things going offensively from there and took a 13-11 lead on an Alisha Filmore trey with 13:03 to play in the first half. The Mustangs led by as many as 10 at 25-15 at the 8:20 mark of the opening stanza and were on top 28-19 with 6:14 to play before the break. The Knights whittled the deficit down to a pair at 28-26 just under two minutes later, and a Kayli Keough layup with 10 seconds remaining in the period made it 33-32 in favor of the Mustangs at the half.
The Knights eventually tied the game at 40-40 5:15 into the second half, but SMU shifted momentum with a 10-3 rally to set up UCF's late-game heroics.
Conference USA Player of the Year Keena Mays led SMU with 15 points, but was just 1-of-8 from the field in the second half. Filmore was next for the Mustangs offensively with 12 points while forward Akil Simpson and guard Korina Baker each had 11. Filmore tallied the game's lone double-double with 12 rebounds and shared game-high assist honors with Baker at four each. Simpson and Baker had three steals apiece, and both Baker and Mallory Singleton tallied one blocked shot.