Southern Utah University women’s basketball rebounded after two conference losses against the University of Idaho last week by defeating The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, 80-73 Sunday afternoon in Cedar City.
The T-Birds rallied behind senior Liz Graves, who scored 33 points while snagging 12 rebounds, seven of them on the offensive end. Freshman Daylani Ballena scored 14 points off the bench while going 4-of-5 from 3-point range. Junior Cherita Daugherty added 13 and led the T-Birds with five assists.
Sophomore Sara Bershers led the Vaqueros with 22 points on 8-of-18 shooting including five 3-pointers. Graduate student Amara Graham followed with 21 points on 58% shooting.
SUU won the rebounding battle 42-35 despite playing without leading rebounder Darri Frandsen. The T-Birds’ 19 offensive rebounds proved to be crucial in the victory, as Rio Grande Valley shot 43% from the field — four percentage points better than SUU.
UTRGV came out firing, hitting five of their first seven shots, and held a six point lead five minutes into the first quarter. SUU responded with four Graves buckets to keep the game close. A 3-pointer by Ballena with 1:27 left in the first quarter gave the T-Birds their first lead.
The second quarter was controlled mostly by the Vaqueros, who gained an eight point advantage on the T-Birds with under three minutes to go in the second quarter. Once again SUU responded with a second Ballena deep ball, followed by three straight buckets by sophomore Madelyn Eaton, Daugherty, and Graves respectively.
The T-Birds ended the first half with a one point leadup 31-30 at the break.
The third quarter went back and forth between both teams, with SUU closing the quarter with a 45-43 lead. The T-Birds opened the fourth quarter with strong defense and good shot making, and another 3-point shot from Ballena gave SUU a nine point lead with six minutes to go.
SUU had an answer for every Vaquero push and never let Rio Grande get back within five. The T-Birds were able to close out the game shooting 8-of-8 from the free throw line.
Head coach Tracy Sanders voiced her displeasure in the post game press conference with numerous aspects of the game, especially on the defensive end.
“I don’t think it was our best effort game,” Sanders said. “I think we pride ourselves on playing hard and playing tough and I didn’t think we did that.”
SUU did have a few defensive lapses, including giving up a 9-0 run to start the game.
“I think energy is important when it comes to starting off games and we didn’t have that coming in,” Ballena told reporters postgame.
The Vaqueros’ hot shooting to start appeared to shock some of the T-Bird players. However, this team rallied behind it’s leading scorer to get back into the game quickly.
“We weren’t expecting them to come out gunning like they did,” Graves said. “We need to [get closer] to them tomorrow to take away the 3-pointer.”
UTRGV shot 11-of-27 from deep which allowed them to keep the game within single digits throughout the fourth quarter.
“I thought they did a good job at making us pay from deep any time we missed a switch,” Sanders said. “We have to contain the drive and that will make the close out easier.”
The T-Birds will look to counter the three ball with aggressive drives inside.
“If you look at our shooting percentage from three that’s not our strength,” Sanders said. “We need to get inside more and get to the free throw line.”
Sanders’ squad routinely makes teams pay from the free throw line, shooting 77% as a team on the season. Tonight, the T-Birds bested their season average and shot a blistering 91% on the game, including going 13-of-13 in the fourth.
The T-Birds will look to continue their aggressive offensive play and implement their defensive adjustments tomorrow night as they take on Rio Grande on back-to-back days in the America First Event Center. Tip off is at 6:30 p.m. and the game can be viewed on PlutoTV.
Story by: Kelton Jacobsen
Photo by: SUU Athletic Department Strategic Communication