On Thursday at noon, the Weber State Wildcats opened the Dee Events Center up to the Southern Utah Thunderbirds. The game was also a field trip for elementary schools in the area, and hundreds of kids yelled, screamed and danced as they watched the WSU women’s basketball team win a thriller over SUU.
Trailing 66–65 with 18 seconds left, Wildcats head coach Velaida Harris called a timeout. The ‘Cats took the ball from out of bounds, and sophomore forward Kayla Watkins was fouled. She missed both free throws, forcing WSU to foul.
SUU bricked a pair of foul shots, giving the Wildcats one last chance.
Needing to go the length of the court, senior point guard Jaiamoni Welch-Coleman was given the ball. She launched a pass to fellow senior guard Emily Drake, who drove and finished strong at the rim to lift the Wildcats to a 67–66 lead with 0.8 seconds remaining.
“I feel great, we’ve been waiting on that win for a long time,” Drake said. “I just wanted to make the layup, so I was focused on that. If someone ran into me, then they ran into me.”
A last-second desperation attempt from the T-Birds fell short at the rim, and the Wildcats exploded onto the court to celebrate an improbable victory.
The ‘Cats and Birds played a nearly identical opening quarter, as both teams matched each other’s scores and stops. Weber State was paced by Watkins and sophomore guard Shianne Johnson, who both pitched in six points. The Wildcats were down by a single point when the first quarter ended, at 20–19.
The second period saw a quick start from SUU before Welch-Coleman found a groove. She assisted junior forward Dominique Williams for a three-pointer, and then scored on back-to-back plays to bring the Wildcats back to within striking distance.
Ensuing baskets from Drake, Johnson and Watkins would then gift the Wildcats with the lead.
“We didn’t get down on ourselves, and we started chipping away at the deficit,” Drake said. “We ended up going on a pretty big run to give us a lead going into the half.”
The first half came to an end with the Wildcats holding a 37-36 lead. Williams led the ‘Cats with 10 points in the opening 20 minutes.
The third quarter was closely contested, as Weber State outscored the T-Birds 16–15 to hold a two-point lead at the conclusion.
The fourth and final quarter started out as a defensive slugfest. Midway through, SUU had outscored Weber 4–2. SUU then converted on a three, but Johnson responded with a layup, which brought the Wildcats within three points.
The scoring picked up, and the battle between the rivals was becoming a wild one. After free throws from Williams to cut the SUU lead to one, Drake hit a mid-range jump shot to give the Wildcats the lead. Then, Welch-Coleman hit free throws to push the lead out to 63–60 with 2:13 remaining.
The Birds flew down and hit free throws of their own, and converted a layup to put them ahead at 64–63. Welch-Coleman was fouled trying to secure a rebound and sunk two free throws to give the ‘Cats a 65–64 lead with 1:13 remaining.
SUU converted a contested layup with 22 seconds remaining to move them back ahead by one and set up Drake’s heroic shot.
WSU saw major contributions from their starters, as every starter scored in double figures.
“The big deal was they did more than one thing,” Harris said. “Jai had 12 points, 7 assists and 8 rebounds; Shianne had 10 points and six rebounds; 14 points and 5 rebounds for Kayla; 17 points and 3 rebounds for Emily; 12 points and 17 rebounds for Dominique. I told the bench that tonight their job is not to score but to defend.”