Southern Utah is headed to The Big Dance for the first time in program history. Courtesy Western Athletic Conference.

Daugherty Leads Southern Utah to First-Ever NCAA Tournament

Major League Baseball teams that need a closer should take a look at Southern Utah guard Cherita Daugherty.

Southern Utah’s senior guard has the ball in her hands in key moments.

“Just trust her 100 percent,” teammate Megan Jensen said.

Well, that trust has paid off for the Thunderbirds.

Daugherty finished with a game-high 26 points, won tournament MVP honors, and led Southern Utah to its first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament with an 82-73 win over CBU on Saturday afternoon at Orleans Arena.

With the win, Southern Utah sweeps both the regular season and tournament titles.

Now, back to Daugherty and this closer role.

Remember three nights ago? It was a Wednesday night at Orleans Arena. The first game of the 2023 WAC Tournament for Southern Utah. New Mexico State was doing everything right to put the 2-seed on upset alert.

Then, with 1.5 seconds remaining, Daugherty played her closer role to perfection. Maybe it was simply luck.

“I threw it up and hoped,” Daugherty would later say.

The shot heard round the world hit nothing but the bottom of the net. SUU avoided the upset-bid in highly-dramatic fashion.

In Friday’s semifinals, Daugherty was once again the closer. Daugherty scored Southern Utah’s final six points in a 64-51 win over GCU to advance to Saturday’s title game.

On Saturday, in Southern Utah’s bid for a first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament, Daugherty did her thing once again.

Daugherty scored six points and pulled down two rebounds in the first quarter to get the T-Birds off to a good start.

It wasn’t without the help of her teammates, though, especially her favorite post players.

Megan Jensen and Lizzy Williamson had a significant size advantage on Saturday. And they took advantage of it.

The Southern Utah bigs combined for nine first-quarter points, four rebounds and two blocks.

“Sometimes we get on Lizzy about how she doesn’t jump,” Daugherty said. “And then I realize that she doesn’t really need to sometimes. But yeah it’s nice. Sometimes I feel like I’m playing with dudes cause I just lob it up. I wish they could dunk it in. But, it’s nice. Their size definitely helps a lot.”

The size created a lot of problems for California Baptist on Saturday. Between blocks, rebounding, and an ability to knock down a 15-foot jumper, SUU had the advantage.

Sila Finau had 15 points for CBU on Saturday before fouling out early in the fourth quarter. Courtesy Western Athletic Conference.

It also helped that CBU couldn’t hit a 3-pointer in the first half. The Lancers were 0-13 from distance.

Southern Utah took a 31-23 lead into the break. Daughter had a game-high 12 points and four rebounds at halftime.

In the second half, CBU made a run, as it is prone to do. But, every time the Lancers knocked down a shot, Southern Utah had a response.

Brittany Klaman knocked down CBU’s first 3-pointer with 5:35 left in the third quarter. However, Lizzy Williamson and Cherita Daugherty responded with back-to-back buckets.

Sila Finau then went on a little 9-2 run all by herself to cut the deficit to six with 3:21 left in the third. However, Tomekia Whitman hit a 3-pointer and the lead was right back to nine.

That was hot the second half went.

Until the closer took over.

With the ball in her hands down the stretch, Cherita Daugherty hit shots, made plays for her teammates, and did what she does…close out ball games.

Teammate Daylani Ballena was big down the stretch on Saturday, as well. Ballena hit free throws and jumpers alongside Daugherty.

It was all part of a team effort to close out an impressive WAC campaign. Daugherty’s driving layup with 1:44 left to play was just the icing on the cake.

“I’m just super proud of them,” SUU head coach Tracy Sanders said. “As a coaching staff we’ve believed in them all year. It’s just fun to see them get what I feel like they’ve deserved. It’s just really fun to be a part of. A memorable tournament, in general. And then just to punch that ticket’s pretty special.”

Four other T-Birds joined Cherita Daugherty in double figures. Daylani Ballena had 14 points. Lizzy Williamson had 13 points. Tomekia Whitman and Megan Jensen each had 12 points.

Chloe Webb led CBU with 21 points. Sila Finau and Grace Schmidt were also in double figures with 15 and 10 points, respectively. The Lancers had four players foul out in Saturday’s loss.

With the win, Southern Utah now awaits the NCAA Selection Show to find out where they will play in their first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament.

About the author

Kyle McDonald

Love everything about WAC Hoops so decided I wanted to write more about it and cover this amazing conference that just keeps getting better. Follow us on Twitter @wachoopsdigest for information, game analysis and much more.

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