The Wildcats (13-14, 7-9) defeated the top team in the Western Athletic Conference, the Southern Utah Thunderbirds (17-9, 13-2), 89-83, in Moody Coliseum Thursday night.
Along with defeating the top team in the WAC, the Wildcats saw a record broken. Graduate guard Maleeah Langstaff scored a career-high 34 points, which is the most a player had scored during one game in ACU’s Division I era.
“They are the top team in our conference,” Langstaff said. “So it was really special to beat one of the top teams. I think that it just sends a message to everyone else in the conference that we can beat anyone on any night so don’t count us out.”
At the start of the game the Wildcats were falling behind 0-4, redshort freshman forward Addison Martin came in and scored back-to-back buckets to tie the game up.
The two teams went back and forth during the first quarter. In the last 57 seconds of the first quarter, graduate forward Maleeah Langstaff came in and drove inside to score and help the Wildcats lead 19-18 going into the second quarter.
In the second quarter, both of the teams came in and battled hard defensively. The Wildcats trailed behind 29-24, but the Wildcats went on a 7-0 run to take over the game and take back the lead before halftime.
Sophomore guard Aspen Thornton drove inside and scored and then graduate guard Madi Miller made a three-pointer. With 51 seconds left, Southern Utah had possession but that did not stop Thornton from stealing the ball from the Thunderbirds and making a layup to give the Wildcats a 31-29 halftime lead.
The momentum created before halftime continued into the third quarter, where the Wildcats dominated.
Langstaff came in and scored the first eight points of the third, and led the Wildcats to a two-point lead. Martin hit a mid-range jumper, Thornton was there to convert inside and Langstaff shot another three-pointer. Following that Langstaff and freshman guard Claire Graham buried two three-pointers, making the Wildcats have a lead of 14, the largest in the game, 60-46.
Southern Utah came in swinging in the fourth quarter and switched to a zone defense. The Thunderbirds went a 13-0 run to narrow the deficit and ultimately take back the lead. But the Wildcats still had confidence that they were going to take down the Thunderbirds.
“They knew that they couldn’t guard us one-on-one,” said sophomore forward Bella Earle. “Either way, they couldn’t guard us.”
Miller came in and scored a three-pointer, making the game a one-point game 69-68. Southern Utah took over with a three to go up two, 72-70. Langstaff then converted to keep the lead 74-72. The Thunderbirds made a basket to tie up the game and sent it into overtime.
“Our team is not afraid of anyone,” head coach Julie Goodenough said. “It felt really good to finish this one off, even though it took us five extra minutes.
Earle stepped in and converted her first three-pointer to start the overtime, taking the lead 77-74. Though the Thunderbirds scored on the next possession, Langstaff went back and converted, making it a three-point game. Martin made a bucket to take a five-point lead with three minutes left in overtime.
The Thunderbirds missed back-to-back shots, and the Wildcat came in with Thornton and made a layup. After making three offensive rebounds the Wildcats sent the Thunderbirds home with the final score, 89-83, in overtime.
One of the biggest contributors to the Wildcats’ win was the team’s rebounding. ACU outrebounded the tallest team in the conference 48-43, while also getting 15 offensive rebounds and scoring 11 second-chance points.
“It starts with preparation in practice,” Langstaff said. “Coaches just reiterate over and over again that we need to rebound. These people are way bigger than us so we need to get out and box out.”
With the Wildcats’ signature win, the team moved to eighth place in the Western Athletic Conference standings but remains gridlocked at ninth place in the WAC’s resume seeding. Heading into the last week of the season, the Wildcats will have a chance to move up in the standings and resume seeding in a road test against the Sam Houston State Bearkats (12-12. 8-7).
“I can not imagine a win that would be bigger to propel in the next week,” said Goodenough, “So we are going to celebrate this one and get ready for what is next.”
The Wildcats will face the Sam Houston Bearkats in Huntsville at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. The game will stream live on ESPN+.
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