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Southern Utah women punch ticket to first NCAA Tournament

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Southern Utah celebrates their victory

Southern Utah celebrates their victory in an NCAA college basketball game against California Baptist in the championship of the Western Athletic Conference tournament, Saturday, March 11, 2023, in Las Vegas. Southern Utah won 82-73.

Ronda Churchill, Associated Press

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Cherita Daugherty scored 26 points, Lizzy Williams and Tomekia Whitman had double-doubles and Southern Utah beat California Baptist 82-73 on Saturday to win the Western Athletic Conference Tournament championship and the program’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament.

The Thunderbirds (23-9), in their first year in the WAC after leaving the Big Sky Conference, scored the game’s first eight points and led thereafter in beating the Lancers (19-13), who won the the 2021 tournament but were vying for their first NCAA trip after completing a four-year transition from Division II.

Southern Utah was the regular-season champion but was seeded second based on the conference’s resume-seeding system. California Baptist was the fourth seed.

Daugherty was 8 of 13 from the floor and 10 of 13 at the line. Williamson added 13 points and 12 rebounds and Whitman 12 points and 11 rebounds. Daylani Ballena added 14 points and Megan Jensen 12.

California Baptist’s Chloe Webb scored 21 points and Sila Finau 15. Grace Schmidt added 10 points and Trinity San Antonio grabbed 11 rebounds. Four Lancers fouled out.

Southern Utah led by 10 heading into the final quarter. The Lancers got within six after a 3-pointer by Dorcas Wu with 29.6 seconds remaining but didn’t connect again as Ballena sank three free throws.

After the teams combined for just 16 points in the second quarter which ended with the Thunderbirds ahead 31-23, they combined for 42 in the third. The Lancers missed their first 15 3-point attempts then made three in the third quarter, getting within six on Finau’s four-point play with under four minutes left. But Whitman hit a 3-pointer to start a 10-6 quarter-ending run for a 53-43 lead.

Southern Utah shot 49% and made 25 of 36 free throws to 13 of 20 for the Lancers, who shot 37% from the floor and put up 34 3-point attempts, making eight. The Thunderbirds were plus-12 on the boards.

Southern Utah won the only regular-season meeting with the Lancers 83-75.