There has been a lot of talk about the WAC regular season title race. At least on the men’s side. That is to be somewhat expected as men’s basketball tends to draw more attention.
However, it might be time to pay attention to the regular season title race on the women’s side of the Western Athletic Conference.
Newcomer Southern Utah has taken the WAC by storm in its first season in the league.
Tracy Sanders’ group is 11-1 in WAC play, sitting alone atop the WAC standings. The lone loss came last Monday at UT Arlington. Perhaps if the game had been played the day it was originally set for, the T-Birds would still be undefeated in WAC play.
The interesting thing about the T-Birds is that the winning hasn’t necessarily been pretty. One of the wins has been by more than 20 points. And seven of the 11 wins have been by double figures. SUU has scored 70-plus points in just four of its 12 regular season games.
Kind of a wild stat.
However, the T-Birds find a way to win games down the stretch. In a win at GCU in January, SUU trailed by eight with seven minutes to play. Yet, somehow the WAC leaders found a way to win a road game. Daylani Ballena hit a 3-pointer with 44 seconds left and Tomekia Whitman hit four straight free throws to seal the 63-60 win.
“We’re getting to that stretch where you gotta kind of grind through things,” SUU head coach Tracy Sanders said after beating Utah Valley on Saturday. “Obviously, next week, we get to be at home. We’ve got two important games at home so I think this kind of sets the tone for that.”
That has been the case during WAC play. Whether it is Ballena, Whitman, Cherita Daughterty, Megan Jensen, Lizzy Williamson or Sam Johnston. Someone makes plays down the stretch as the T-Birds continue to win games.
On Saturday in Orem, after jumping out to a 19-point lead late in the third quarter, the T-Birds held on for dear life in a 75-70 win.
Perhaps it was the grind of the stretch run. Or, perhaps it was looking forward to a big matchup seven days later. Either way, the T-Birds found a way to stay atop the WAC standings.
“I think we understand what’s on the line,” Sanders said. “We talk about it all the time. We control our own destiny right now. So, it’s really on us to show up and be ready to play … obviously, pressure is a privilege. We’re feeling that pressure but we also understand we’ve earned that pressure.”
That pressure comes in the form of the defending champs. The SFA Ladyjacks have won four straight games and sit one game behind SUU for the regular season crown.
SFA heads to the Beehive State with thoughts of staking claim to its position as top team in the WAC. The Ladyjacks take on Utah Tech in St. George on Thursday. Following Thursday’s game, the Ladyjacks head up I-15 for a big showdown at America First Events Center.
Mark Kellogg’s team is on a role. The Ladyjacks have won four straight games by no less than 13 points. SFA is coming off a 79-66 win over GCU on Saturday at The Sawmill. Avery Brittingham, Aiyana Johnson, and Jordan Harrison anchor a deep SFA squad looking to repeat as regular season champs.
Considering the fact SFA plays at SUU on Saturday and SUU hosts GCU to end the regular season, the Ladyjacks kind of control their own destiny.
“That’s always the goal,” SFA senior Aiyana Johnson said. “To control what we can control and I’m glad that we’ve done what we needed to do in order to have that.”
“They all count the same,” SFA head coach Mark Kellogg said. “You’re bringing up Southern Utah. But, we still got a game to play before we play Southern Utah already. They all go into the standings, one column or the other. If we can just keep going to the next one and get that one, and then we’ll refocus and go get the next one … obviously we want to do something special in the regular season.”
Well, no disrespect to UTRGV or to Utah Tech; but, hopefully, SFA and SUU each win on Thursday to set up a big showdown on Saturday afternoon in Cedar City. The regular season title depends on it.