Women’s Basketball Falls in Close Conference Opener with Idaho

In their first Big Sky conference game of the 2020-21 season, the Southern Utah University women’s basketball team lost to preseason favorites the University of Idaho 69-64.

The T-Birds trailed by as many as 14 points in the first half on Friday night in Memorial Gym, but the team fought all the way back and had a chance to win in the final moments. Ultimately, Idaho’s savvy defense and solid free throw shooting (12-for-15 FT in fourth quarter) were enough to put the Vandals over the top.

One-time Idaho commit Cherita Daugherty led all scorers with 18 points while also pulling down nine rebounds and dishing out four assists.

Seniors Liz Graves and Darri Frandsen both finished with double-doubles in a game where head coach Tracy Sanders made every effort to dominate the glass as SUU outrebounded their opponents 66-37 in Moscow. Graves scored 14 points and pulled in 15 boards while Frandsen scored 12 and snagged 14.

Beyonce Bea opened the scoring for the Vandals with a mid-range jumper after both teams missed on their opening possessions.

Neither team could find their shooting accuracy from deep out of the gate, as they combined for an 0-for-7 mark on 3FG in the first quarter.

Four straight free throws by Frandsen put the T-Birds ahead 7-4 with 6:18 left in the first quarter, but they were only able to hold onto the lead for 1:41 before the Vandals responded.

Bea scored her team’s first nine points to help the Vandals charge back, and her team claimed an 18-12 lead with 2:45 left in the first.

Consecutive conversions at the free throw line by Daylani Ballena and Daugherty put the T-Birds down 18-16 when the first quarter expired. Both teams shot 11 free throws in the period.

Foul trouble slowed Bea down in the second quarter, but the Vandal’s offense did not miss a beat. SUU had a chance to claim the lead, but a steal-and-score by Gabbi Harrington and consecutive T-Bird turnovers resulted in a 9-0 run to give Idaho a double digit lead.

They continued the run until the end of the half, expanding their lead to double digits and outscoring SUU 21-11 after the 8:23 mark of the second quarter. The Vandals shot 3-for-7 from long distance and forced the T-Birds into seven turnovers during the second period.

Idaho only committed one turnover in the first half and took a 39-27 lead into the break. SUU shot 9-for-31 (29%) from the field in the first compared to 15-for-36 (42%) for the Vandals.

The T-Birds claimed a 34-18 rebounding advantage in the first half, and they used their rebounding advantage inside to claw back into the game in the third quarter.

Daugherty found Graves for a 3-pointer a few minutes after the break, and the T-Birds scored the next six points in the game to cut the lead to 41-36. The teams exchanged baskets before a Madelyn Eaton 3-pointer cut the lead to one, but the Vandals rebuilt a slim 48-45 lead heading into the final frame.

The T-Birds had nine offensive rebounds during the third quarter, resulting in eight second chance points.

Frandsen made a free throw on the T-Birds first fourth quarter possession, scored in the post on the second and drilled a 3-pointer on the third to give SUU their first lead in almost 30 minutes 52-49 with 6:41 remaining.

Idaho’s Gina Marxen answered with an and-one layup on the next possession and splashed a three after a Vandal stop to reclaim the lead, 54-52.

The teams exchanged the lead four times over the next few minutes before an offensive rebound and putback by Hailey Christopher gave Idaho the edge 58-57 with 3:36 remaining.

SUU sputtered on their next few possessions as Idaho’s Harrington added four more points from the free throw line. Eaton found Graves for a layup to cut the lead to one possession at 62-59 with 1:40 left on the clock.

The Thunderbirds forced a shot clock violation despite allowing the Vandals to extend the possession with  two offensive rebounds. Daugherty brought the ball up the court with the chance to tie, but as she attempted to set up Eaton on the wing, Harrington jumped the passing lane and stole the ball before being fouled to prevent a breakaway.

Down five with 31 seconds left after Harrington made her free throws, it seemed like the T-Birds would need a miracle to win the game, and they very nearly made it happen.

Daugherty scored a layup on the next possession and Daylani Ballena finished a tough and-onelayup after that to pull the T-Birds within two points in the final moments, but clutch free throw shooting by Harrington, Bea and Christopher put the game out of reach.

The T-Birds fall to 3-3 on the season and 0-1 in conference play. SUU scored 19 second chance points on Friday, but the team struggled from the field overall, shooting 21-for-70 in the contest (30%).

Marxen led her team with 14 points while Bea, Harrington and Christopher each finished with 13.

With the win Idaho improves to 5-4 overall and 4-1 in the Big Sky. The teams will face off again Saturday at 7 p.m. in Moscow. The game can be streamed on PlutoTV channel 1060.

Story by: Connor Sanders
Photo courtesy of SUU Athletics Strategic Communication