Thunderbirds fall to Notre Dame in NCAA Tournament

The Southern Utah University women’s basketball team was defeated by the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Friday, March 17. Notre Dame controlled the game from the tip-off and came out with a 82-56 victory in South Bend, Indiana. 

First half

Notre Dame started the game on a 12-0 and went six of seven from the field, forcing a timeout by head coach Tracy Sanders. During that four minute span, the Fighting Irish dished out five assists and seven rebounds. Redshirt junior Lizzy Williamson put the Thunderbirds on the board with a layup, but not before Notre Dame scored six more points to go up 18-2. 

With just under four minutes left in the first quarter, Seniors Megan Jensen and Tomekia Whitman got on the board. The Fighting Irish had a response for everything and continued to pour it on SUU. Junior forward Maddy Westbeld led Notre Dame in points with eight at the end of the first quarter. It was her and sophomore Sonia Citron running the pick and roll game. Citron had four assists to go along with three points and led Notre Dame to a 27-10 advantage. 

The Fighting Irish started the second quarter on a 14-2 run, which was followed by a three-point make from junior Samantha Johnston and a mid-range jumper from Whitman. With under five minutes remaining in the first half, Southern Utah still trailed by 24 points  but continued to fight their way back. In the final three minutes of the half, the Thunderbirds went on a 7-0 run that cut the lead to 19 points. At the break, Southern Utah trailed Notre Dame 43-24. The Thunderbirds were able to go blow-for-blow with the Fighting Irish and scored 14 points to Notre Dame’s 16 in the second quarter.

A dominant paint performance from Notre Dame was what SUU had to address, and unfortunately, they were outscored 24-6 in the paint. The Fighting Irish shot nearly 60% from the field compared to SUU’s 30%.  

Second half

After a made jump shot from freshman KK Bransford, Notre Dame found themselves up 58-27 early in the third quarter. Junior Daylani Ballena responded with a corner three to cut the lead to 29 points. With just under five minutes left in the third quarter, Notre Dame had scored 20 points compared to Southern Utah’s eight. 

A three-point play from graduate student Cherita Daugherty cut the lead to 30 points, but Bransford made one of two free throws to go up 66-35. Notre Dame had a response for everything that SUU would throw at them, but a completed-and-one from Ballena made the score 70-42. Notre Dame outscored the Thunderbirds 27-18 in the third quarter.

Southern Utah started the final quarter with a three-point make from senior Alexa Lord that put them within 25 points, though Notre Dame would not let the Thunderbirds any closer than that. With four minutes left, the Thunderbirds were down 77-49 to the Fighting Irish and could not get much going offensively. The final score was 82-56, which advanced Notre Dame to the next round in the NCAA Tournament and eliminated Southern Utah.

Top performers 

— SUU, Lizzy Williamson, 11 points, seven rebounds and one block

— SUU, Cherita Daugherty, eight points, one assist and one rebound

— SUU, Samantha Johnston, nine points and five assists

— SUU, Tomekia Whitman, nine points and two rebounds

— ND, Maddy Westbeld, 20 points, two blocks and two steals

— ND, Sonia Citron, 14 points, three rebounds and six assists

— ND, Lauren Ebo, 14 points, 10 rebounds and three assists

— ND, Kylee Watson, 12 points, 100% from the field and seven rebounds


Article by: Chevy Blackburn

Photos courtesy of SUU Athletics