Courtesy: SUU Media Relations
CEDAR CITY, Utah, Mar. 7 – Southern Utah (14-15, 8-11) knocked off Northern Colorado (18-11, 15-5) for the second time this season after claiming a 71-58 win over the Bears in the Centrum Arena Thursday night. The victory moves the Thunderbirds a full game ahead of Northern Arizona (8-20, 7-12), which suffered a 59-51 defeat to Montana, in the Big Sky standings as both teams continue to compete for the last conference tournament spot as they head into their respective regular season finales this Saturday.
“It was just two tough teams, two good rebounding teams, two teams that really needed to win at this point in the year. Them to try to secure home court, us to try to get into the tournament,” stated SUU head coach JR Payne. “I thought we played like we needed to win.”
Southern Utah took an early lead against Northern Colorado after Kimie Hawkins worked inside for a couple of scores while Desiree Jackson and Marquelle Funk both connected from the outside to put the T-Birds up 10-4. The visitors rallied to cut the margin to 14-10 halfway through the period, with D’shara Strange recording eight of her team’s first ten points.
Tayler Anderson dropped in a jumper and sank a shot from the corner to extend the lead to 19-10. Hailey Mandelko then hit her first triple of the night and SUU went up by ten after starting the night 4-for-4 from beyond the arc.
The Bears trimmed the deficit back down to six with a layup from Stephanie Lee, but Andrea Jones added another three for the T-Birds and took a steal coast-to-coast for a lay-in to set the SUU advantage 31-22 at the break.
Southern Utah shot almost 50 percent from the floor in the opening period and held the Bears to a mark of just 28.6 percent. Strange led all scorers with 12 points in the first half while Anderson paced SUU with seven.
The T-Birds tallied the first seven points out of the break to pull ahead 38-22. The streak started with a layup from Hawkins, which was followed by a three from Funk and a pair of free throws for Mandelko. After two more trips to the line, SUU stretched the margin to game high 18 as it went up 42-24 five minutes into the second half.
Northern Colorado rallied with eight unanswered points of its own, including a lay-in from Strange that brought it back to a ten-point game at 42-32. Anderson ended the drought with back-to-back scores, but another 7-0 run had the Bears back within ten with 8:25 remaining.
Sofia Hepworth came off the bench to score six-straight for the T-Birds, pushing the lead to 54-41 with a layup at the seven-minute mark. Northern Colorado continued to hang around however and Victoria Timm came up with the visitor’s first 3-pointer to help narrow the margin to 58-53 in the closing minutes.
Most of the scoring came on free throws down the stretch, as both teams made regular trips to the foul line. That would prove to be in the Thunderbirds favor however, as SUU hit its final eight attempts to take the 71-58 win.
The Thunderbird defense held its opponents to just 31.0 percent shooting on the night, including a 1-10 mark from behind the arc. SUU shot 44.7 percent on its end of the floor and converted 6-11 from the outside. The Bears posted a 41-32 advantage on the boards, but gave up a 21-0 deficit in bench scoring.
Strange did the majority of the work for UNC, finishing the game with 25 points and 14 rebounds, but also gave up eight takeaways and was just 7-23 from the field. Hawkins scored 13 and Anderson tallied 11 to lead a group of seven T-Birds who had at least eight points in the matchup.
“Kimie and Tay were our two double-figure kids tonight, so to see them really click and do well at the end of the year is awesome,” explained Payne. “There were so many key plays, I just thought everyone did a great job tonight.”
Southern Utah will host its regular season finale this Saturday when North Dakota makes its first visit to Cedar City. The Thunderbird seniors will be honored prior to a seven o’clock tip. Coverage of the game is available on www.suutbirds.com.
Sat. Feb. 28
vs. North Dakota
(W) 73 -66
Thu. Feb. 26
vs. Northern Colorado
(L) 66 -88
Sat. Feb. 21
(L) 49 -76
Thu. Feb. 19
@ Eastern Washington
(L) 67 -88
Sat. Feb. 14
vs. Idaho State
(W) 76 -75
Thu. Feb. 12
vs. Weber State
(L) 48 -50
Thu. Mar. 5
@ Sacramento State
Sat. Mar. 7
@ Portland State