The Thunderbirds (11-9, 5-4 Summit League) struggled to contain WIU (6-13, 4-5) who shot 48 percent in the game and had a pair of players score 20-plus points. Southern Utah won the battle on the boards 46-39 but shot 35 percent and committed 16 turnovers to have the longest home winning streak by a SUU club since the 1994-95 team won nine consecutive home contests.
“We didn’t attack the basket and settled for jumpshots and that’s not our game,” stated head coach JR Payne. “They made more shots and we didn’t answer all night.”
Senior forward Challis Pascucci led the way once again with 23 points and 11 rebounds to notch her eighth double-double of the season while also matching a season-high with four blocks. Sophomore forward Tayler Anderson produced one of her best career games, grabbing a career-high 16 boards and tying a career-high with seven assists. Senior point guard Kaila Goff added 12 points.
“I really liked how Tayler played tonight,” commented Payne. “ She’s a very tough player down low and really worked hard tonight for her rebounds and she has also done a nice job of distributing the past couple weeks.”
Western Illinois came out firing, knocking down their first couple shots to produce an 8-2 run before adding a 9-1 run to eventually open up a 10-point lead just over five minutes into the game.
The Thunderbirds would counter with six straight points by Pascucci to cut the WIU lead to eight but the Fighting Leathernecks continued to knock down shots, hitting their next four to build its largest lead of the half, 32-18 with 8:28 remaining.
Minutes later, Pascucci rattled in a jumper from the free throw line that spurned a 7-0 run for the Thunderbirds with Goff hitting a three and freshman guard Andrea Jones knocking down a jumper to cut the WIU lead to 32-25. Western Illinois again answered the Thunderbirds run by scoring the final six points of the half to take a 38-25 lead into the break.
Pascucci led all players with 13 points through the first 20 minutes but WIU’s 52 percent shooting and SUU’s 10 first half turnovers saw the Thunderbirds trailing at the break.
The Leathernecks hot shooting didn’t let up in second half as the Thunderbirds could get no closer than eight after putting together an 8-2 run in the opening minutes. Pascucci’s free throws cut the WIU lead to 45-37 but Western Illinois came right back with an 11-4 spurt to go up by 16, at the 10:48 mark.
Southern Utah used a bucket from Sears, another three by Goff and a pair of free throws from Pascucci to get within 11. That would be as close as SUU would get over the final 9:01 as WIU continued to knock down shots to keep their lead in the double-digits for the remainder of the game.
“We need to have a short memory and come back to work to prepare for an important road trip against a pair of very tough teams in South Dakota State and North Dakota State this weekend,” added Payne.
The Thunderbirds will hit the road for a pair of road contests this weekend, facing South Dakota State University in Brookings, S.D. on Saturday and North Dakota State University in Fargo, N.D. next Monday.