When SUU women’s basketball traveled to Ogden in late January to face off against in-state rival Weber State, things appeared to be a regular rivalry game for the T-Birds and the Wildcats on paper. However, a more familial rival surfaced.
“I feel like I’ve always been the underdog, skinnier than her, smaller but to just ‘D’ her up and just score on her like I did [was great],” T-Bird freshman guard Madelyn Eaton laughed. “We’ve been talking about [playing against each other] since the summer.”
In Eaton’s first collegiate season she faced off against her older sister, five-foot ten Wildcat junior guard Liz Graves. Eaton’s squad got the better of Graves, and the T-Birds’ 82-66 victory over the Wildcats on Saturday, Feb. 22.
It’s common to hear siblings go to the same school for their college basketball careers (i.e. the Morris twins at Kansas, the Lopez brothers at Stanford and the Klinker sisters currently at Idaho). The scenario could have been reality for the Eaton family.
Graves started her career at BYU, but realized that her playing style did not mesh with the system head coach Jeff Judkins ran. The then-sophomore transferred to Weber State and sat out the 2018-19 season due to NCAA transfer rules and took on a new last name after getting married.
The same year the younger Eaton played her senior season at Lone Peak High School.
Eaton decided to commit to SUU over playing with her sister. Now, the sisters use the opportunity to play each other twice a year as a personal competition.
“Our dad sent me a text and said, ‘Hey, just play like Larry Bird and Michael Jordan,’” Graves said, later lightheartedly comparing herself to Jordan in the sibling rivalry. “They were always competing and smiling, but they were aggressive and attacking each other.”
Eaton won the first matchup in January, but Graves got the better of her sister on Saturday, scoring 15 points and grabbing nine rebounds in the Wildcat’s loss. Eaton finished the game with only five points on 2-8 shooting.
“I was trash talking the whole game [to my sister],” said Graves. “We had her scouted the way we did, but I played her how I knew her.”
The trash talking continued after the game when Graves was asked if she wanted another chance to play SUU in the Big Sky Tournament in March.
“Oh, heck ya! Get another one under our belt.” Graves laughed
Eaton took the opportunity to give some trash talk of her own.
“I’m down,” Eaton smiled. “We’ll beat you again.”
T-BIRDS SURVIVE SECOND QUARTER SURGE
After outscoring the Wildcats by 12 in the first quarter, the T-Birds saw their lead diminished to 32-31 before the end of the first half.
In need of a momentum swing back in their favor, sophomore guard Claudia Armato hit a buzzer beating three point shot to give the T-Birds a 35-31 lead at the half.
That was the closest the Wildcats would smell an upset for the rest of the game.
“We played well to start the game and there was a lull there to start the second quarter,” head coach Tracy Sanders said. “We gave up way too many points. But I thought we came out in the third quarter pretty focused and got a good lead and continued with it.”
Coming into the game, SUU ranked last in the Big Sky in rebounds per game. The team put that concern to rest as they grabbed 42 combined rebounds, 24 of which on the offensive end. Those 24 offensive rebounds led to 29 second chance points.
“One of the things we talk about is getting [the ball] and going up strong and finishing if you’re right there, or otherwise kicking it out and getting another great opportunity,” Sanders said. “I felt like in the first half we rushed things a little bit and in the second half we did a way better job of securing the rebound and scoring off of it.”
Shalyn Fano, Jessica Chatman and Darri Frandsen led the T-Birds on the glass, combining for 32 rebounds and 20 offensive boards.
The T-Birds also used a balanced scoring attack to take down their rivals as four different players scored in double figures. Frandsen finished with 17 points off the bench while Fano led the team with 19 points.
Senior guard duo Rebecca Cardenas and Harley Hansen scored 15 and 16 points, respectively, while Armato scored five points, the most she’s scored since returning from injury. The trio also combined for 10 of the team’s 14 steals.
“[Armato] and [Cardenas] are so quick and aggressive on the ball,” Sanders said. “That wears on a ball handler when there’s constant pressure there… It speeds things up and makes people uncomfortable and then we can deny people a little bit more on the wings. That’s where [Hansen] and [Eaton] are able to get in there and get some steals.”
With the Big Sky Tournament right around the corner, the team will now turn their attention to their final road trip of the season. The team currently holds a 4-8 record on the road, a different mark than their 11-2 record at home.
“Our schedule has been really favorable, being able to have so many home games at the end of the season,” Sanders said. “We’re 11-2 now at home and so we have to learn how to be better on the road, especially moving to the conference tournament when you’re not playing at home so you gotta be ready to go no matter where you are.”
Sanders has also passed on the urgency to win on the road to her team.
“Our focus is definitely on the road because our record hasn’t been great, especially in conference,” Eaton said. “We just hear a lot of teams saying we’re not consistent and stuff like that. I think that’s a big motivator for us.
The team will travel to Eastern Washington University on Thursday, Feb. 27 before taking on second-place Idaho on Saturday Feb. 29 in Moscow.
The T-Birds are now 15-10 overall on the season, their best overall mark since going 23-10 in the 2013-14 season, with a 9-7 record in conference play. The team also tied Montana for the conference’s fifth overall seed with the win.
Story by: Kurt Meacham
Photo by: SUU Athletics