College basketball is back, and for the Southern Utah University women’s basketball team, the start of the season is off to a great start with home wins over the University of New Mexico and Benedictine University at Mesa.
SUU versus University of New Mexico
The Thunderbirds started the new season this previous Monday by playing the New Mexico Lobos, a Mountain West Conference powerhouse.
The first quarter was a pound for pound fight with neither team giving an inch. New Mexico carried a nine-point lead midway through, but the Thunderbirds stormed back and went on a 7-4 run. Junior guard Daylani Ballena cut the Lobo lead to one with a three-pointer and 50 seconds left. Despite the efforts from the Thunderbirds, New Mexico led 17-16 at the end of the first.
Southern Utah gained its first lead of the game early in the second quarter from a pair of free throws made by Ballena. The lead went back and forth for the rest of the quarter with both teams swapping momentum. Ultimately, the Lobos headed into halftime with a 41-37 lead.
The second half was all Thunderbirds. SUU outscored the Lobos 25-14 in the third quarter and extended their lead with a layup from redshirt junior Lizzy Williamson, making it 48-43 with seven minutes left in the third quarter. Williamson finished the game with 13 points and 19 rebounds, earning her first double-double of the season. Junior Samantha Johnston gave the Thunderbirds a 10-point lead after sinking a three-pointer. New Mexico rallied back to cut the lead to six at the end of the third quarter. Southern Utah led 61-55.
The Thunderbird defense shined the most during the fourth quarter, only allowing 13 points. Senior transfer Tomekia Whitman led the defensive effort with a thunderous block at the seven minute mark in the final quarter. Whitman, who previously played for Idaho State University, finished her first game as a Thunderbird with a double-double. Whitman had 20 points and 12 rebounds to go along with two steals and a block. Southern Utah kept the high-powered Lobo offense under control. The Thunderbirds fought hard and won 76-68.
Whitman shared her enthusiasm about her first game as a Thunderbird.
“It is really exciting. I love this group of girls and love the coaching staff. It’s a lot of fun and great energy. The team has been super supportive from the beginning to the end of the game, no matter what happened,” said Whitman.
SUU versus Benedictine University at Mesa
The Thunderbirds, who were white-hot riding the momentum from the win over New Mexico, faced a new opponent Wednesday night: the Redhawks of Benedictine-Mesa. The Thunderbirds unleashed a flurry of scoring, winning the contest 102-60.
The first quarter was filled with scoring for Southern Utah, headlined by Whitman, Ballena, Williamson and senior Megan Jensen carrying the Thunderbirds to a quick ten-point lead. The Thunderbirds kept the momentum and headed into the second quarter with a 23-10 lead.
The Thunderbirds kept the throttle on the Redhawks, building their lead through the second quarter. The Thunderbirds’ largest lead of the first half was 24 points after Jensen made a free throw, making the score 40-16 in favor of Southern Utah at halftime.
The Redhawks would not go away quietly, making the third quarter challenging for the Thunderbirds. The Redhawks scored 23 points in the third quarter, which was their highest point total of the night. Southern Utah kept a 24-point lead going into the final quarter.
SUU was led by freshman center Ashley Banks. Banks finished her second collegiate game with a career-high 19 points.
Just under two minutes left in the final quarter, the Thunderbirds hit the century mark, courtesy of a layup from Banks. Senior Bryar Tronnier scored the final bucket of the game. Tronnier led the Thunderbirds with 11 rebounds in the game.
The Thunderbirds will be on the road for the first time this season, taking a trip along the Pacific Northwest. Their first stop will be against the Gonzaga University Bulldogs. The Thunderbirds are 1-2 all-time versus the Bulldogs. The last time both of these teams played was Dec. 20, 2014. It was a 70-51 loss in Spokane, Washington.
Head coach Tracy Sanders shared her thoughts on the upcoming road trip.
“After New Mexico, we set the bar high. That was a good team. The expectation on the team is that we are going to compete with everyone we play, and so, I think we have to take that into the next game,” said Sanders. “We have to go into these games confident and pay attention to detail on the court.”
Southern Utah will face Gonzaga on Saturday, Nov. 12, with tip-off at 5 p.m.
The game will be held at McCarthey Athletic Center and will be streamed on wccsports.com.
Article by: Anthony Colasuono
Photo courtesy of SUU Athletics