The Southern Utah University and New Mexico State University women’s basketball teams faced off Wednesday night in a Western Athletic Conference quarterfinal game. In an exciting finish provided by a buzzer-beater from Cherita Daugherty, SUU took the 62-61 win.
— SUU Women’s Basketball (@SUUWBasketball) March 9, 2023
The New Mexico State Aggies took a strong lead in the first quarter and kept a double-digit edge over the Thunderbirds until the second half. The game was not close until two minutes remained in the third quarter when the Thunderbirds pulled within two. Eight lead changes followed, including the final shot that gave Southern Utah the win. With three seconds left on the clock, Daugherty, defended by three Aggies, lobbed an awkward shot from three-point range to punch SUU a ticket to the WAC semifinals.
As the star of the night, Daugherty put up 14 points and two assists. She went 5 for 5 from the free-throw line and was perfect from three-point range, as the game-winner was her only attempt. Tomekia Whitman was Southern Utah’s top scorer with 18 points, 13 of them coming in the third quarter alone, and six rebounds. Daylani Ballena matched Daugherty’s total of 14 points while shooting 75% from the field and contributing six assists. As a team, the Thunderbirds shot 39.3% from the field and 37.5% from beyond the arc.
Molly Kaiser led New Mexico State in points by scoring 15, seven of which came from the charity stripe. She also led the team in assists with four. Sylena Peterson came in just behind Kaiser with her 14 points, accomplished by going a perfect 3 for 3 from the field and making eight free throws. She also collected seven rebounds, tying with Tayelin Grays and Ashlee Strawbridge for the team high. The Aggies had a 36% field-goal percentage on the night and shot 60% from three-point range.
Southern Utah now advances to the semifinal round, where they will take on the Antelopes of Grand Canyon University. The No. 3 seed Lopes defeated Seattle University on Wednesday night 85-80.
In the high-scoring game, GCU had five players score more than 10 points. They shot 42.9% from the field and 33.3% from three-point range. They forced Seattle U into 20 turnovers, scoring 26 points off of them. In the regular season, the Lopes were led by Olivia Lane, Naudia Evans and Tiarra Brown, who all averaged double-digit points per game. Lane and Brown are also two of the most accurate shooters on the team, both with field-goal percentages of over 48%.
SUU and GCU met twice during the regular season, and SUU took both victories. The Thunderbirds won 63-60 in Phoenix and 71-63 in Cedar City.
The semifinal game will take place on Friday, March 10, at 3 p.m. MST in the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. It can be streamed on ESPN+.
Story by: Anden Garfield
Photo by: SUU Athletics