On Wednesday, March 8, the Southern Utah University women’s basketball team will play in the quarterfinals of the Western Athletic Conference Tournament. After clinching a first round bye, SUU will compete against the winner of the first round game between New Mexico State University and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
Though the Thunderbirds’ 16-2 conference record made them the WAC regular season champions, the conference’s newly introduced resume seeding lists SUU as the second seed for the tournament.
SUU ended the regular season with a 20-9 overall record. Cherita Daugherty guided the team offensively in her final season on the court before graduation. She scored 435 total points, averaging out to 15 per game. She finished fifth in the WAC in points per game among qualifying players and third in total points. Daylani Ballena and Megan Jensen also passed the 300-point mark on the season despite being more than 100 points under Daugherty’s total. Ballena scored 329 points and averaged 11.3 per game while Jensen scored 323 with an average of 11.1. Jensen is the Thunderbirds’ most consistent shooter with her 55.6% field-goal percentage. Ballena and Daugherty teamed up on assists, dishing out 106 and 103, respectively. Samantha Johnston was next in line with 61 assists. As a team, Southern Utah shoots 43.3% including 29.7% from beyond the arc.
Lizzy Williamson, measuring 6’5”, leads the WAC after blocking opponents 68 times this season, nearly doubling her runner-up. She also leads Southern Utah in rebounds with 296 total and 10.2 per game. She is now the all-time single-season leading rebounder for SUU after topping a record that has not been touched since 2010. Jensen and Daugherty are also known to chase down rebounds, but their 5.9 and 5.5 per game are just over half of Williamson’s average.
New Mexico State
The Aggies’ 15-15 overall record and 10-8 conference record earned them the seventh seed in the WAC tournament.
Molly Kaiser is New Mexico State’s only player averaging double-digit points. Her 12.7 per game puts her 12th among qualifying players in the WAC. The Aggies have four players who each contributed over 50 assists throughout the season. Kaiser, along with Taylor Donaldson, Sylena Peterson and Soufia Inoussa, all shared the ball consistently. The Aggies have a team field goal percentage 40.8% and a three-point percentage of 26.6%.
New Mexico State is the No. 2 defensive team in the conference, allowing opponents to score 60.7 points per game. The team forces 18.7 turnovers per game, and Kaiser and Peterson each have over 40 steals through the team’s 30 games. The Aggies are not a very strong rebounding team, however, and collect just 34.1 per game.
Southern Utah beat New Mexico twice in the regular season, 61-58 in Las Cruces and 63-56 in Cedar City.
The 10th seed Vaqueros went 12-17 overall in the regular season and 6-12 in conference play.
UTRGV is home to the WAC’s No. 3 scorer, Iyana Dorsey. She averaged 15.9 points per game and scored 429 total points throughout the season. She shot 30.8% from three-point range but went just 34% from the field overall. Dorsey was heavily supported by Jena’ Williams’ 86 assists, a team-leading number. The Vaqueros shot 34.8% on the season with 28.7% from three-point range. Of the 13 teams in the WAC, they are 13th in field goal percentage.
Averaging over three per game, the Vaqueros are the No. 4 team in the conference when it comes to blocks. Zariah Sango and Charlotte O’Keefe each swatted opponents over 24 times to contribute to the effort. O’Keefe is also a strong rebounder for UTRGV and averaged 7.1 rebounds per game, just under Deborah Ogayemi’s 7.5. The team is second in the WAC for offensive rebounds and sixth for defensive rebounds.
Southern Utah beat UTRGV 84-55 in Edinburg and 73-66 in Cedar City during the regular season.
The game between New Mexico State and UTRGV will be on March 6 at 7 p.m. in the Michelob ULTRA Arena. The winner will then take on SUU on March 8 at 7 p.m. in the Orleans Arena. All times are listed as MST and all locations are in Las Vegas.
Story and photos by: Anden Garfield