History Complete: Lady Thunderbirds Dancing With 82-73 Victory over California Baptist

History Complete: Lady Thunderbirds Dancing With 82-73 Victory over California Baptist

By: Keller Sherman

Featured Image Courtesy of Orleans Arena, Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS — Eighth in the media polls, sixth in the coaches polls. That’s what the experts thought in the preseason, but the Lady Thunderbirds proved everyone wrong and then some. Southern Utah completed a sweep of the regular season and tournament titles all in year one as a member of the WAC. They are heading to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. The Thunderbirds enter the Big Dance 23-9 having gone 16-2 in conference play.

Vegas Magic

It took something no short of a miracle for the Thunderbirds to reach this point. Cherita Daugherty was fittingly named tournament MVP for this. She had an unthinkable three-point shot to help SUU get past New Mexico State in the quarterfinals. Following that close call, the Thunderbirds looked like a completely different team in their final two games. They dispatched Grand Canyon in the semifinals and California Baptist in the final to complete history. Megan Jensen and Tomekia Whitman are also all-tournament honorees.

The Speech That Changed It All

Down sixteen in the quarterfinal game against New Mexico State, Traci Sanders was quite displeased. The Thunderbirds were not looking the part of regular season WAC champions in the slightest. Sanders ripped into her team and that brought the best out of them. SUU outscored the Aggies 21-6 in the third frame, but could never fully put them away. The fourth quarter quickly became a back-and-forth affair, but Daugherty’s miracle helped the Thunderbirds advance. The Lady Thunderbirds would proceed to go on a tear in their final two games. Neither was really in doubt and now SUU women’s basketball is dancing for the first time ever.

Individual Highlights

The Thunderbirds never trailed against the Lancers and the writing was on the wall early on. SUU jumped out to an early 8-0 lead and never let the game get within one possession. CBU cut the lead down to four or five on some occasions, but it was all Thunderbirds. Lizzy Willamson went for yet another double-double with twelve rebounds and thirteen points, but she was not the only Thunderbird to record a double-double on Saturday. Tomekia Whitmean joined Willamson with eleven rebounds and twelve points. Megan Jensen and Daylani Ballena had twelve and fourteen points respectively. If Cherita Daugherty hadn’t already locked up Tournament MVP with her buzzer-beater against New Mexico State, she left no doubt here with twenty-six points.

Time to Dance

Many bracketologists expected SUU to face Stanford, but the selection committee had a pleasant surprise on Selection Sunday. The Thunderbirds will make their tournament debut as a fourteen seed. Their opponent is the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season champion Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The Irish are a three-seed and the two teams will do battle on St Patrick’s Day of all days. Do the Thunderbirds have some luck of the Irish in them to pull off a big time upset?

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