Courtesy: SUU Media Relations
CEDAR CITY, Utah, Mar. 9 – Southern Utah (15-15, 9-11) led by as many as 21 points over visiting North Dakota (11-18, 6-14) before seeing that margin disappear in the closing minutes of regulation. UND came back to send the game into overtime, and the two sides fought through two extra periods before the Thunderbirds eventually came out on top 95-94 in their regular season finale on Saturday night.
“It was the outcome we wanted, but not necessarily the route we wanted to get there,” stated SUU head coach JR Payne. “It was a great battle. I said to the girls after that they created a memorable last game. No one will ever forget Tay and Kimie’s last game.”
SUU jumped out to an 18-7 advantage to start the game after hitting eight of its first 13 attempts from the field. Kimie Hawkins got things going with a couple of inside scores while Marquelle Funk, Tayler Anderson and Hailey Mandelko each knocked down jumpers to help the T-Birds go up by 11.
Desiree Jackson dropped in a three to triple up the score at 21-7. Southern Utah had the margin at 25-11 halfway through the opening period, but UND ran off six-straight points to pull back within eight. Mandelko then snapped the run with a three-point basket that pushed the lead back into double figures.
The difference grew to 15 on a corner three from Funk late in the half, and SUU went into the break up 42-29 as Hawkins knocked down a shot from the foul line just before the horn. The senior forward led all scorers with 11 points in the early going while Thunderbirds shot over 43 percent as a team. Nicole Smart posted nine points for UND, which went 32.1 percent from the field in the opening period.
Mandelko got the second half started with a three from the wing then extended the margin to 57-36 on a pair of free throws near the 12-minute mark. An 8-2 North Dakota run trimmed the deficit down to 15 halfway through the period, but back-to-back jumpers from Funk and another score by Hawkins had SUU in front 66-46 with seven minutes remaining.
UND made another rally, scoring ten straight unanswered points, and had the lead down to 66-56 in the closing minutes. The visitors continued to battle and a three from Mia Loyd made it a two-point game at 68-66 with two minutes left.
Mandelko came up with a big jumper for the T-Birds and Jackson hit a pair of shots at the line to stretch the advantage back to six, but another score from Loyd and a three for Lauck had North Dakota within a single-point in the final 30 seconds. UND then tied things up at 74-74 on a late three-point play.
The Thunderbirds were unable to come up with a score in the last 10 seconds and the contest headed into overtime. The two teams battled it out in the extra period with SUU again taking the final possession, but this time trailing by one with 25 seconds remaining. The T-Birds worked the ball around until getting it to Carli Moreland on the low block. She went up for a shot and was fouled to earn a trip to the line with four seconds left. The junior forward hit her first attempt to even the score at 83-83 but here second try was off the mark and the game headed into a second overtime.
Moreland made another important trip to the line in the following period where she hit both shots to give SUU a 91-90 edge. UND then got a pair of free throws to retake the advantage at 94-93. The Thunderbirds once again had the chance at the last shot, and this time Sofia Hepworth would come through and she drove into the lane and pulled up for a shot over a defender that bounced in to seal the 95-94 win.
SUU shot over 45 percent from the field in the contest and posted a 48-44 rebounding advantage. North Dakota kept it close by hitting nine 3-pointers on the night and going 31-33 at the foul line. Both teams recorded 19 assists and eight steals.
Lauck finished with 36 points, including six 3-pointers and 12 free throws, for the highest scoring output of any SUU opponent this season. Smart had 20 for UND, while Buck turned in a game-high 15 rebounds. Six different T-Birds scored in double-figures, led by Hawkins who put up 19 points in her final game at the Centrum Arena. Mandelko followed closely with 18 while Moreland dropped in 11, Jackson scored 10 and Funk and Hepworth each had a dozen.
“It just became the little things, taking care of the basketball, not communicating on switches, left some kids open. It goes to show that no one is ever out of a basketball game,” commented Payne. “That was a heck of a finish.”
Southern Utah will now prepare for its first trip to the Big Sky Tournament in Missoula, Mont. The Thunderbirds will meet Northern Colorado, a team they defeated twice this season, in the week’s opening game on Wednesday at 3 p.m. (MT). Coverage of the tournament 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