Women’s Basketball Resumes Play Against William Jessup and Grand Canyon

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Southern Utah University women’s basketball will play their first two games at the America First Event Center after pausing team activities due to a positive COVID-19 test within the program last week.

The T-Birds will take on William Jessup University on Wednesday, Dec. 9 and Grand Canyon University on Saturday, Dec. 12 to begin a six-game homestand, the team’s first home games of the 2020-21 season.

The start of SUU’s Big Sky Conference schedule was postponed after two games at the University of Montana were canceled, meaning the Thunderbirds will have had 10 days off since opening the season with a 58-47 loss to Utah Valley University on Nov. 28.

Wednesday’s game will be the first time SUU women’s basketball has played on its home court since March 6.

William Jessup Scouting Report:

WJU finished 20-11 last season, losing in the second round of the Golden State Athletic Conference tournament to No. 1 seed Westmont College. The Warriors (1-2) are a competitive presence at the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics level, winning 20 games each of the last two seasons.

The Warriors are coming off a week in which they had three games canceled “due to contact tracing from a previous contest.” They were supposed to play California State University, Sacramento; University of California, Davis and Simpson University over a stretch of three days.

Before the postponements, WJU came within a basket of upsetting the University of Nevada, falling 66-65 in Reno on Nov. 28.

In their first game back on Tuesday, the Warriors lost 91-62 to California Baptist University in Riverside. WJU will have about 20 hours of rest before they take on the T-Birds on Wednesday, and will travel to Orem to take on UVU on Thursday.

The condensed schedule likely means head coach Hernando Planells will play an expanded rotation to accommodate player fatigue.

Senior center Miranda Zaragosa leads the way offensively for WJU with 15.7 PPG and 9.0 RPG through three contests.

Freshman forward Paige Winter (10.3 PPG) and senior guard Aycee Willis (9.3 PPG) help to shoulder the offensive burden for WJU.

Grand Canyon Scouting Report:

The Antelopes (3-0) secured a 69-65 victory when SUU treavelled to Phoenix, Arizona to take them on last season. Guard Tianna Brown and forward Tavia Rowell scored 11 and 10 points respectively to help lead the Antelopes to victory last season, and both return as key figures for 2020-21.

Head coach Molly Miller has started her first season at the helm with three consecutive wins, beating Weber State University, Benedictine University Mesa and Loyola Marymount University thus far. Miller previously spent six seasons as the head coach of Division II Drury University where she compiled a record of 180-17.

GCU finished in second place in the Western Athletic Conference after a 15-12 overall record last season.

Freshman center Katie Scott currently leads the WAC in scoring, averaging 20.7 PPG. The 2019-20 Missouri Gatorade Player of the Year also leads GCU in rebounding, averaging 6.3 RPG.

The Antelopes will play Northern Arizona University on Wednesday before heading to Cedar City.

3 Keys to the Games:

1. Start with a burst

SUU held a 23-17 lead at halftime against UVU before things began to unravel when the offense went cold in the second half.

Against WJU, a team that will play five games in six days, SUU jumping out to an early lead could demoralize the Warriors, especially if the T-Birds can keep Zaragosa from finding a rhythm in the post.

The T-Birds held UVU to just five points in the second quarter of their game on Nov. 28, and if SUU’s defense is locked in early like it was in Orem, it could be a long day for the Warriors.

Last season, GCU held a 35-22 halftime lead over SUU before Rebecca Cardenas led a near-miraculous comeback in the second half. If the T-Birds find themselves in an early hole this time around, they won’t have Cardenas to turn to, and Scott’s bruising presence in the post will make getting back into the game difficult.

The T-Birds need to be ready to punch GCU in the mouth from the get-go or they’ll go down swinging late.

  1. Scoring in late game situations

It’s impossible to rule out WJU after their near-upset at Nevada, but this key will likely be more important in Saturday’s game against the Antelopes.

Against UVU, SUU struggled to score out of halfcourt sets in the second half, and especially during the last six minutes of the game. The T-Birds were 2-10 during the closing minutes against UVU.

Head coach Tracy Sanders needs to figure out a way for her team to put the ball in the bucket when the game winds down and tensions are high.

If that means giving the ball to guards Madelyn Eaton, Liz Graves or Cherita Daughtery and hoping they can get a bucket, then so be it. Maybe Sanders can find ways to score through running her usual offense. No matter what it looks like, SUU needs to avoid crunch time cold streaks like the one the team experienced in Orem, or it will be very difficult to win close games this season.

  1. Free throw shooting

SUU shot 13-23 from the charity stripe for the game against UVU, and 3-8 during the fourth quarter.

This could be a relatively easy fix, or something that plagues the T-Birds all season long. If SUU struggles to find easy baskets late like they did against UVU, then they’d better make good on their chances to score from the line.

Where, When and How?

Wednesday’s game against the Warriors is set to tip off at 2 p.m. inside the America First Event Center. Saturday’s game against the Antelopes will tip off at 12 p.m.

Both games will be streamed live on PlutoTV channel 1055.

Story by: Connor Sanders
Photo by: Mitchell Quartz