Thursday’s contest between in-state women’s basketball foes Southern Utah University and Weber State University seemed like it might be a blowout, but rivalry games never seem to be that simple.
Weber trailed by as many as 18 points in the first half and came within two points of tying things up late in the fourth quarter, but ultimately the Thunderbirds were able to fend off the Wildcats in the America First Events Center 77-68.
SUU led wire-to-wire despite Weber’s second-half outburst and claimed their first Big Sky Conference win of the 2020-21 season.
“It’s funny, we were talking on the bench when we were up 11 at the end, and to us it felt like two points — the way the game was going,” head coach Tracy Sanders said postgame. “We made some great plays down the stretch… I’m proud of them, but I do think we can be better.”
Liz Graves scored 21 points and hauled in eight rebounds against her former team — finishing with a plus/minus rating of +18. Darri Frandsen scored 18 points on 5-of-10 FG while shooting 8-of-9 at the line. Cherita Daugherty added 11 points and five rebounds before fouling out, and Kinsley Barrington pitched in 10 off the bench.
“I’m actually really angry,” Graves said of SUU’s performance. “Even though we won, it feels like a loss because we didn’t execute very well. We let them get on a run. They shouldn’t be that close to us.”
Kori Pentzer led the way offensively for Weber, scoring a career-high 21 points and making 4-of-11 3-pointers. Aloma Salovi was the only other Wildcat to finish in double figures with 11 points.
Eaton scored the first five points of the games for the T-Birds, nailing a 3-pointer in the left corner off the opening tip and scoring a layup in transition.
Graves buried one from beyond the arc on the next possession and Eaton found her for another long bomb after that to give SUU an 11-2 lead. Weber State head coach Velaida Harris called timeout after the T-Birds made each of their first five shots.
SUU extended the lead to double digits after two Eaton free throws a few minutes later, and the T-Birds maintained an eleven-point cushion for most of the first quarter.
Southern Utah shot 58% from the field in the first quarter, and forced seven Wildcat turnovers resulting in the 10 points that gave them a 27-17 advantage at the first break.
A mid-range jumper by Weber forward Dominique Williams briefly cut the lead to single digits, but the T-Birds responded with a 12-2 run to lead 39-21 with 3:11 left.
Williams knocked down a 3-pointer with under a minute to go to cut the lead to 15, but a free throw by Megan Kamps put SUU ahead 44-28 at halftime.
Graves was a perfect 4-of-4 from the field in the first half, while the T-Birds shot 14-of-23 (61%) as a team.
Weber State, on the other hand, shot 13-of-36 (36%) from the field and 2-of-9 (22%) from three. The Wildcats pulled in 11 offensive rebounds in the half but could only manage four second-chance points.
Frandsen scored a layup to push the lead back to 18, but the Wildcats responded with an 11-3 run capped off by a layup in the post by Williams that cut the lead to 10 with six minutes left in the third quarter.
They scored again on the next possession to pull within eight, and Johnson scored a layup after a steal to trail 52-46. Johnson scored a 3-pointer after another Wildcat stop and made it a three-point game with 3:10 on the clock.
The teams exchanged points as the quarter wound down before a pair of free throws by Hickock to close the quarter. The Thunderbirds failed to score a field goal in the final eight minutes and the Wildcats outscored them 26-13 in the quarter. They clung to a 57-54 lead entering the fourth.
Graves scored the first basket of the quarter, a tough layup off a post up on the right block, to finally break the drought — which lasted nearly 10 minutes in total. Weber responded with a bucket of their own, but SUU maintained a five-point lead when Dayla Ballena found Frandsen for a layup.
Pentzer splashed a 3-pointer on Weber’s next trip down to get the Wildcats as close as they would come to tying things up 61-59, but Frandsen pounced on a loose ball on SUU’s next possession and scored it to put SUU ahead by four at the final media timeout.
Both teams traded baskets before Rita Satini found Barrington in transition to give SUU a two-possession advantage, 67-61, with 1:58 remaining.
The T-Birds forced a stop on defense, and Graves was fouled on her way to the basket and sank both free throws on the ensuing possession to go ahead 69-61.
SUU made their free throws and played stout defense down the stretch to claim the victory.
“We went away from our execution and settled for a lot of mid-range shots and shots in transition,” Sanders said. “We just weren’t patient for that stretch in the third quarter and that was a huge turning point in that game.”
Despite shooting just 6-of-23 in the second half, the T-Birds finished 20-for-46 (44%) from the field. SUU made up for the cold streak in the second half at the free throw line, shooting 33-of-39 at the stripe on Thursday. SUU also blocked nine shots and racked up 10 steals in the game.
Weber State outrebounded SUU 37-32 and hauled in a season-high 18 offensive boards, but the Wildcats also committed 19 turnovers. WSU shot 27-for-70 (39%) from the field.
After Thursday night’s wild contest, Southern Utah and Weber State will have one day of rest before they go to battle once again on Saturday at the Dee Events Center in Ogden at 12 p.m. The game will be broadcast on PlutoTV.
Story by: Connor Sanders
Photo by: Mitchell Quartz