NEW ORLEANS, La. - The East Carolina women's basketball team took a late lead in the first quarterfinal of the 2009 Conference USA Women's Basketball Championship, but couldn't hang on as the No. 1 seed SMU took a 77-69 victory inside Fogelman Arena Friday afternoon. The Lady Pirates end tournament play with an overall record of 18-13 while the Mustangs earned their 20th win of the season and improved to 20-10 on their campaign.
"SMU is a very good basketball team," head coach Sharon Baldwin-Tener said. "I thought that they came out to play. They jumped out early on us, and then on plays down the stretch, too. I was very proud of our team for coming back. When we were 13 down, we could have folded, but we continued to fight back and kept playing hard."
SMU raced out to multiple 10-point leads to start the contest, the last being at the 11:35 mark when Samantha Mahnesmith converted a layup to give her team a 20-10 lead. ECU cut into the lead, eventually pulling within six points with 1:39 remaining in the half on an Ashley Clarke layup. SMU upped its advantage to eight right before the half, when LaShandra Hill nailed a mid-range jumper in the final minute.
Brittany Gilliam lead all scorers at the half, netting 13 for SMU while Allison Spivey and Tiahana Bowens shared the lead for the Lady Pirates with six points each. East Carolina held the advantage from the field, converting 10 of its 28 shots for a percentage of .400 while the Mustangs fired at a .353 clip. SMU out-dueled the Lady Pirates on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds as compared to 18 for ECU.
The Lady Pirates quickly cut the deficit to one to begin the second half, as Jean Best hit a layup to make the score 37-36 in favor of the Mustangs with 16:34 left in the contest. ECU would tie the contest at 43 on a Clarke Jumper at the 12:49 mark but SMU Went back ahead on the next possession as Gilliam dropped in a three. The Lady Pirates evetually took their first lead, scoring six-straight points over a minute span to make the score 51-49 with 10:17 left in the game. ECU held that lead until the 3:35 mark, when a Christine Elliott layup knotted the score at 62. The Mustangs would take charge the last three minutes, out-scoring the Lady Pirates 15-7 to move on to the semifinals.
A trio of ECU players scored in double-figures, as Jasmine Young, LaCoya Terry and Tiahana Bowens notched 15, 14 and 13 points each. Terry also added five assists while Jean Best set a new career high with five blocks.
"I think everybody who plays today has a shot to win it all," Baldwin-Tener added. "It may come down to who is the deepest, on the last day... the top four seeds, the ones who got byes. Winning four in a row is going to be tough. Not impossible, but I think it's going to be tough. I think it's up for grabs. There are a lot of really good basketball teams in this league, and on any given night anyone can beat another one."
The Lady Pirates nearly set a new C-USA Tournament record for blocked shots, recording a tourney single-game second-best 12 on the afternoon.