SMU’s Alisha Filmore and Akil Simpson
By Cheryl Coward
DALLAS – Southern Methodist University survived a nail-biter of a game Sunday afternoon against a determined University of Texas at El Paso squad. The Mustangs eked out an 81-79 win on free throws from sophomore guard Alisha Filmore in the last 2.6 seconds of the game after UTEP rallied from an 18-point deficit.
Filmore had a chance to give her team a four-point lead just 15 seconds before her final shots. But she missed the two free throws before having another opportunity to get the Mustangs a victory.
SMU coach Rhonda Rompola was impressed with Filmore’s composure in those last seconds when she sealed her team’s win.
“I said ‘listen, you just missed a pair of free throws before that and then you go nail two with two point something seconds.’ That shows a lot of poise,” said Rompola about the sophomore. Filmore finished the game with 14 points.
The Mustangs (10-8, 3-2 C-USA) came into the contest on a two-game winning streak (Tulsa, UCF) and sixth place in Conference USA. They started conference play with back-to-back losses against Tulane and Houston, the top teams in the league.
The Miners were fourth in the league and beat Rice, 79-57, on Thursday in El Paso.
UTEP (11-7, 3-3 C-USA) got off to a quick start on a three-point shot from junior guard Kim Smith. However, SMU came right back at them, quickly tied the game at 5-5 and then briefly took the lead. Five minutes into the game, junior forward Gloria Brown helped keep the Miners close giving them a one point lead at 15:05 after a layup. Brown then promptly fouled SMU’s Christine Elliot who gave her team the lead again after two free throws. The Mustangs led for the rest of the half, increasing their margin by as much as 12 with two minutes left before the break.
Much of SMU’s scoring power early on came from the three-point line. They made 55.6 percent of their treys to UTEP’s 36.4 percent. While UTEP outrebounded SMU in the first half, their free throw shooting was dismal. They were 2 of 7 from the line while SMU was 8 of 10.
Going into the second half, SMU led 43-32. SMU senior Haley Day led all scorers with 11 while no UTEP players went into the locker room with double digits.
During the second half, SMU came out gunning and managed to build an 18-point lead in a physical game. Day made some crucial three-point shots for SMU prompting UTEP coach Keitha Davis to berate her team.
“She’s on fire; you gotta get a hand in her face,” yelled Adams during a timeout.
Rompola was impressed with Day’s production.
“I though Haley was super aggressive today,” said Rompola, “especially in the second half. She hit a couple of key threes. Today she was just feeling it.”
Day indicated that once she got into a groove, she just continued to make shots.
“I just got into a rhythm,” she said, “and they were falling for me today.”
However, for SMU senior Delisha Wills, things were not going so well.
With a little over four minutes left in the game, SMU was ahead 70-67. Wills, who already had four personal fouls, was called for another. She protested and the officials issued a technical. She continued to voice her opinion and was hit with an additional technical and ejected from the game. While five fouls is the limit, she actually racked up seven on the record books because of the two technicals.
According to Day, Wills’ ejection provided a spark for the team.
“We felt like we had to get the win for Delisha,” she said. “It fired us up. It pumped us up and we played to the end for her. We didn’t get down on ourselves or anything like that.”
Rompola agreed with Day.
“I thought they played more fired up than they had in the last ten minutes,” she said about the stretch of the game after Wills was ejected.
The SMU coach said she challenged her team to step up when Wills left the gym. Freshman forward Akil Simpon took the bait and when the game continued, made a decisive play splitting two defenders and driving to the basket for a layup.
“One thing I like about Akil Simpson is that she’s not afraid to take shots and miss,” said Rompola about the 6-0 freshman forward, a product of nearby Duncanville High School. “She has guard-like tendencies when she’s on the perimeter. I thought that was a huge drive.”
She continued: “I challenged them during timeout and said who’s going to take over the game and it’s not often that you have a freshman who will say ‘I will do it.’”
Day said that during that timeout when Rompola issued the challenge, Simpson piped up with “I got this coach.”
“That’s Akil,” said Day, “She’s going to be the emotional leader like me I think.”
Day scored a season-high 17 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Elliot also had 17 points and seven rebounds. Point guard Samantha Mahnesmith finished with 10 points, her fifth-straight game of double-digit figures.
Freshman Kelli Willingham from suburban Dallas (DeSoto High School) led UTEP with 16 points. She scored all of her baskets in the second half. Other UTEP players in double figures included junior Gloria Brown (15 points), sophomore Anete Steinberga (15 points) and junior Dietra Caldwell (12 points). Brown also had seven rebounds.
“It was a tough loss,” said UTEP’s Adams. “We didn’t put two halves together to pull off the win. We played hard the last 10 minutes and fought our way back in it. I’m proud of that fact but am disappointed we didn’t play well for the full 40 minutes.”
The Miners head home to host Tulsa on Thursday, January 27 at 7:05 p.m. MST. They fell to fifth place in the C-USA rankings.
SMU goes east to face Southern Mississippi on the same day. The game tips off at 7 p.m. CST. They rose to fourth place in C-USA standings.