Southern Utah University women’s basketball is 6-5 through 11 games so far, including a 2-0 record against Big Sky Conference opponents. They won their last two games against Life Pacific University and Dixie State University by a combined 88 points. On top of that, this team looks to have finally found its identity.
The Thunderbirds opened their season with four straight losses, following that stretch with four straight wins. That stretch showed a squad struggling to commit to a small-ball lineup and to dominate down low.
Since their loss at the University of Nevada Las Vegas on Nov. 20, SUU’s only other loss has been to the University of Colorado who was ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll at the time. Riding that 6-1 streak, SUU has capitalized on the abilities of junior center Lizzy Williamson and senior guard Cherita Daugherty.
What exactly are the strengths of this team? How are they getting it done? What about their weaknesses?
Three point shooting
This roster is shooting 32% from three-point range this season, an impressive mark as they turn their lack of size into a strength. Three of their five starters are under six foot and Head Coach Tracy Sanders uses this small lineup to her advantage. Having so many shooters on the floor allows the players to spread out and help create open three point looks. At the same time, it allows the paint to be more open for players like Williamson to shoot close to the basket. This strategy only works if a team can make their three pointers and the Thunderbirds are doing just that.
To go along with their strength in three point shooting, this team is moving closer to its offensive potential. The spaced floor allows for Daugherty to drive towards the basket for a layup or a chance at getting free throws at the very least. With so many options, it is incredibly hard for opposing defenses to fully top SUU’s offense. If they try to stop the long-range shooting, then Daugherty and others can attack the interior. If the defense closes in, then players like guards Sam Johnston and Natalia Otkhmezuri can do serious damage from the three point line.
Surprisingly, having shorter players on the court has not hurt SUU’s ability to rebound shots. The Thunderbirds have gathered 482 rebounds in their 11 games, averaging a whopping 43.8 rebounds per game. That mark is currently 25th in the National Collegiate Athletics Association Division I. Williamson is a top-50 rebounder in the country as well, averaging 9.4 per game. These numbers come from a team that is willing to scrap and fight for every missed shot, even if they do not have the height. This is a testament to Sanders and her coaching which places an emphasis on rebounding.
Lack of depth
Although they have put up great so far, this is a thin roster. Behind Williamson and senior Darri Dotson at the post positions, only juniors Briar Tronnier and Alexa Lord remain. Tronnier has not played very many minutes and Lord is a five-foot-nine-inch guard who was converted to forward due to lack of depth in the offseason. If either Williamson or Dotson have to miss extended time, the team’s interior would be in trouble.
Turnovers have been an issue for both the men’s and women’s teams. The women’s team has committed 174 turnovers in 12 games, including having the ball stolen away 111 times. Poor ball handling and miscommunication on the offensive end leads to easy points for the opposing team. If SUU wants to make noise in the Big Sky, it is important that they clean up those errors.
SUU women’s basketball plays their first game after Christmas Break on Thursday, Dec. 30 at Sacramento State. The Thunderbirds and Hornets tip off at 8 p.m. MT. Unfortunately, there is no live-stream available for this game.
Story By: Christian Esparza
Photo Courtesy of SUU Athletics