The Southern Utah University women’s basketball team earned their first ever trip to the NCAA tournament after beating California Baptist University 82-73 on Saturday, March 11. In the Thunderbirds’ first season in the Western Athletic Conference, they earned their spot as the conference’s regular season champions in addition to winning the WAC tournament.
The Saturday afternoon game was in Southern Utah’s hands from beginning to end. Once they made the first basket, the Thunderbirds took the lead and kept it for all 40 minutes. The CBU Lancers cut their deficit down to just six points in the final minute of the game, but could not complete a comeback.
Southern Utah had more than just one star in the game with all five starters scoring double-digit points. Guard Cherita Daugherty was the top scorer with 26 points, going 8 for 13 from the field and 10 for 13 from the free-throw line. Daylani Ballena, SUU’s other starting guard, scored 14 points and dished out seven assists. As the tallest player on the court, center Lizzy Williamson collected 12 rebounds and three blocks while scoring 13 points to earn a double-double. Forwards Megan Jensen and Tomekia Whitman each scored 12 points and Whitman chased down 11 rebounds, making her the second Southern Utah player with a double-double.
As a team, the Thunderbirds outrebounded the Lancers 45-33 in addition to outshooting them by one field goal. Overall, SUU shot 49.1% from the field and 20% from three-point range.
California Baptist relied heavily on Chloe Webb, who led the team in points with 21. She also had four steals to contribute to the 17 turnovers the Lancers forced from the Thunderbirds. Brittany Klaman, who played all but one minute of the game, led all players with nine9 assists without giving up a single turnover. The team leader in rebounds was Trinity San Antonio who chased down 11, six of them being off the offensive glass.
The Lancers used a full-court press frequently throughout the game in attempts to slow down the Thunderbird offense, but their aggressive strategy was their main downfall. They committed 31 fouls while Southern Utah had just 14. CBU’s San Antonio, Webb, Lesila Finau and ex-Thunderbird Kinsley Barrington all fouled out of the game in the fourth quarter. They gifted 36 free-throw attempts to SUU, who converted 25 of them.
CBU also struggled with their shot accuracy, especially in the first half. As a team, they went 0 for 13 from three-point range in the first twenty minutes. In the second quarter, they made just one field goal, but went a perfect 4 for 4 from the free-throw line. The Lancers as a whole had a field goal percentage of 37.1% and a three-point percentage of 23.5%.
Southern Utah will now look to the Selection Sunday bracket reveal to see who their next opponent will be. The women’s bracket reveal will be on March 12 at 6 p.m. MDT and can be watched on ESPN.
Story by: Anden Garfield
Photo courtesy of Kaylee Shores