Courtesy: SUU Media Relations
MISSOULA, Mont., Mar. 13 – After defeating Northern Colorado twice during the regular season, Southern Utah was unable to accomplish the feat for a third time as the T-Bird’s season came to end at the Big Sky Tournament on Wednesday with a 67-56 loss to the Bears. The seventh-seeded Thunderbirds kept things close, and the score was even at the break, but number 2 seed UNC put together a strong second half to claim the victory and advance to the second round.
“This is not the outcome to this game that we were hoping for,” stated SUU head coach JR Payne in the postgame press conference. “We came in very confident in our abilities and our game plan but knowing that we were playing a great team. They have shown excellence all season. We are disappointed in the outcome but proud of our efforts.”
Southern Utah’s first field goal of the afternoon didn’t come until four minutes in when Carli Moreland sank a jumper from the foul line to bring the score to 6-2. The Thunderbirds quickly rallied and a turnaround shot from Tayler Anderson made it a one-point game at 15-14, just past the halfway mark of the opening period.
The Bears stretched their lead back to five on a basket from Lauren Oosdyke, but a 3-pointer for Andrea Jones and a free throw from Lori Parkinson helped SUU even things up at 24-24 with less than three minutes left in the half.
D’shara Strange gave the advantage back to UNC with a trip to the line, but Moreland took a nice pass from Jones for lay-in in the final seconds to tie the score at 26-26 heading into the break.
22 of the Thunderbirds’ 26 points came from the bench as Hepworth and Moreland each recorded eight points in the early going. SUU also held a 22-15 edge on the boards and led Northern Colorado 8-0 in second chance points. Strange finished with 11 point first half points for the Bears.
Southern Utah took its first lead early in the second as Hawkins hit a foul shot to put her team up 27-26. UNC went back in front on back-to-back jumpers for Strange and Stephanie Lee, but the T-Birds came back to tie things up at 32-32. Victoria Timm hit a pair of shots from the outside as the Bears ran off 10 unanswered to lead 42-32.
Moreland snapped the streak with a hook shot in the lane and added another score to bring SUU back within six with 11 minutes remaining. She went on to score eight straight for the T-Birds as they cut the margin to 45-40. The Bears responded with a 10-0 run that saw both Lee and Timm connect from beyond the arc to push the advantage to 15.
Mandelko ended the drought with a three for her first points of the game, then added another to cut the deficit to 59-48 with two minutes left on the clock. She would drop in a third shot from the outside to make the score 61-51 in the closing moments. The Thunderbirds increased their defensive pressure and were able to close the margin to nine in the last seconds, but Northern Colorado ultimately prevailed by a final score of 67-56 to advance to the second round while bring the SUU season to an end.
UNC hit 51.7 percent of its attempts from the field in the second half, including 4-7 from 3-point territory. The Bears finished shooting 46.4 percent overall in the game while the Thunderbirds recorded a mark of 39.0 percent. Southern Utah held a 36-34 rebounding advantage in the contest and led Northern Colorado in bench scoring by a final count of 35-2.
Strange led all scorers with 25 points, while Timm, Lee and Oosdyke also turned in double-digit scoring performances for the Bears. Mandelko converted three triples for nine points for Southern Utah and Hepworth provided 10 more off the bench. Moreland posted a double-double with 18 points and 12 rebounds.
“This is not the season we hoped it would be,” commented Payne. “We have much higher expectations than just being at the tournament. Every year is a lesson and if we can learn from the ups and downs that we had throughout the season, I think that we will really grow as a program. I feel very good about the future of our program, our signees and our returning players and expect to have a very big impact on the Big Sky next year.”
Southern Utah’s finishes the year with an overall record of 15-16 as well as a conference mark 9-12 in its first season as a member of the Big Sky.
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