Herd Women Fall In Semi-Final To SMU

SMU beat Marshall on Saturday, then upset No. 18 UTEP on Sunday to claim the NCAA Tournament spot for C-USA. This means the league will probably get two teams in the NCAA "March Madness," as UTEP is 27-2. Despite the loss, Tynikki Crook of the Herd played well enough to make the All-Conference USA Tournament team on Sunday. Crook is the first freshman to make team since C-USA re-alignment in 2005.

SMU improved to 24-8 with the win over UTEP, 73-57, in the finals Sunday at Orlando, Florida, in the New UCF Arena. The Mustangs got 20 points from Brittany Gilliam and 17 points from Sharee Shepherd in the win. Shepherd and SMU's Janielle Dodds joined Crook on the All-Tournament team, as did UTEP's Lareica Hughes and Natasha Lacy. With SMU and UTEP headed to the NCAA Tournament, it appears Marshall, 17-16 and a RPI of 126, or Southern Miss, 19-13 with an RPI of 173, may be candidates for the WNIT. The Herd was in the Pre-season WNIT to start the season.

On Saturday, SMU overcame a 10-point lead for the Herd to defeat Marshall's women's basketball team, 68-59, in the semi-finals of the Conference USA Tournament. Marshall held a lead as high as 15 points midway through the first half before SMU closed it to ten at halftime. Marshall held the lead until six minutes remaining in the game, but the two-seed came back to win.

Marshall's hopes for reaching the finals on Sunday started to crumble when Jillian Samuels hit a three-pointer to tie the game. SMU then went on a 19-10 run to finish the game. Marshall shot poorly in the second half, missing all seven of its threes and only making 3-of-18 in the contest from behind the arc. Kizzy Hart was 3-for-11 from three in her final collegiate game, but led the scoring attack with 13 points.

Tynikki Crook showed the promise of the future for the Thundering Herd's women's team by collecting her third consecutive double-double, and fifth of the year. The freshman center had ten points and 11 rebounds in the game, making 4-of-10 from the field. She also had a block and a steal. Sophomore forward Alyssa Hammond scored 12 points, hitting 4-for-9, and had four rebounds in the game. Chantelle Handy, another sophomore forward, hit 5-of-6 and scored ten points with three rebounds and an assist.

The Thundering Herd was dominant in the first half after working through a fast start by the Mustangs. SMU (23-8) scored the first six points of the game in the opening two minutes, forcing Marshall head coach Royce Chadwick to burn a timeout early. That quickly became a turning point in the contest as the Herd would come back with a 14-0 run that saw Marshall take a 14-6 lead. Three-straight baskets by Handy, along with Hart's third three of the half gave Marshall a 23-12 lead with 8:39 left in the half. Marshall would lead at halftime 35-25, and the Herd continued to crash the glass in the tournament by finishing the first half with a 23-14 advantage on the boards.

SMU would start the second half like the first, scoring the first six points. But a quick six points from Hammond helped Marshall get its lead back up to seven points, 43-36, with 13:10 left in the game. Both teams went cold and had trouble scoring over the next few minutes as Marshall found itself up 49-46 with seven minutes remaining. The Mustang's Jillian Samuels tied the game with a three, and the teams exchanged the lead twice over the next two minutes until another three by Samuels sent SMU on a 9-0 run that would seal the game.

Janielle Dodds was the star for SMU, scoring 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting. Jillian Samuels finished with 12 and Brittany Gilliam had ten. Marshall finishes its season with a 17-16 record, its fifth-straight non-losing season and its best record since going 19-10 in the 2004-05 season. SMU advances to the championship game to face the winner of the UTEP and Southern Miss semifinal game. Marshall also had the final game of the career for Hart, Melody Hudson and Meagan Samis, the three senior players who will not return for next season. Marshall will also get back Meg Withrow for the 2008-09 season, as the West Virginia high school girl's all-time scoring leader missed most of February and all of March with a back injury.

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