“At this point in the season it doesn’t matter if you win by one or 30. A win means you get to continue to play and that’s the goal,” stated SUU head coach JR Payne. “We continue to just try to go 1-0 on game day and to have more and more firsts. As many as we can get the better.”
Sacramento State built a 9-3 lead early on as Ashleigh Munns hit a 3-pointer for the Thunderbirds only basket over the first five minutes. She was matched from the outside by Sadie Clements on the other end of the floor and the difference grew to 14-5 before Jackson sank another three to pull SUU back within six.
The Hornets started 3-4 from the beyond the arc and 8-11 overall to extend their advantage to 19-8 after nine minutes of play. Munns knocked down another three to narrow the margin, but Gigi Hascheff matched her again as Sacramento State doubled up the T-Birds on the scoreboard, 24-12.
Jackson split a pair of defenders and got to the rim for a lay-in, found Andrea Jones in transition and knocked down another triple as Southern Utah scored 18 unanswered to rally past Sacramento State for a 30-24 edge. Jones added a 3-pointer of her own and Lori Parkinson worked inside for a basket. The Thunderbird defense held the opponents scoreless for more than six minutes during the comeback.
“What we needed to fix was the fact that we were being really passive early in the game,” explained Payne. “We have players that can penetrate and create and once we were more aggressive we had better results on the offensive end.”
The Hornets took advantage of SUU miscues in the final minute of the half to bring the deficit back to 33-31 heading into the break. Jackson made several key plays for the Thunderbirds in the early going, and finished period with eight points, two assists and a pair of blocks. Margaret Huntington paced Sacramento State with six points after hitting her all three of first attempts from the field.
Hailey Mandelko opened the second half with a three from the corner for her first points of the day and then added a jumper in transition to push the Thunderbird advantage to 38-33. The Hornets would fight back to even things up at 38-38 on another 3-pointer from Hascheff.
Mandelko went on to score 16 of Southern Utah’s first 18 points of the second half to put the T-Birds back in front, 51-44. The difference grew to 11 halfway through the final period as Mandelko dropped in a pair of free throws to make the lead 66-55.
Hascheff kept her team close by pouring in 22 second-half points, including a three point play that had the Hornets back within five with six minutes remaining. Marquelle Funk pushed the SUU advantage back to seven with a shot from the outside, but another score by Hascheff had Sacramento State down by just four in the final 60 seconds.
From there Parkinson hit a pair of free throws to put the T-Birds back up by six and Mandelko and Jones each made trips to the foul line to help Southern Utah come out on top by a final score of 86-78.
After attempting a total of eight 3-pointers in the two regular season games against the Hornets, Southern Utah went 10-28 from behind the arc, making five shots in each period. Munns, Jackson and Mandelko each hit three triples for the T-Birds. Jackson matched her season-high with 21 points on 8-12 shooting while Mandelko finished with 20, all of which came in the second half. Jones added another 11 while handing out seven assists.
The Thunderbirds held a slighting shooting edge, finishing at 49.1 percent from the field to the Hornets mark of 46.7 percent. SUU led by a count of 37-29 on the glass and went 20-23 from the foul line while Sacramento State was 11-16. Hascheff scored a game-high 25 points with Fantasia Hilliard adding another 15 in defeat.
Southern Utah will face Montana in the second round of the tournament with tip-off set for Friday evening at 6:30 p.m. (MT) The Griz held on for a 75-66 win over rival Montana State in their opener. Coverage of the game is available online at www.suutbirds.com.