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What Southern Utah coach Tracy Sanders, two guards said about Notre Dame, Olivia Miles on eve of NCAA Tournament

Tyler Horka03/16/23
Article written by:On3 imageTyler Horka


notre dame niele ivey
Notre Dame head coach Niele Ivey (left) and Southern Utah head coach Tracy Sanders (right). (Left: Photo by Lance King/Getty Images; Right: Photo by Kyle Birnbrauer - SUU Athletics Strategic Communication)

Southern Utah might be in the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever, but the No. 14 seed Thunderbirds (23-9) have already made good on a March moment for the ages. They wouldn’t be playing No. 3 seed Notre Dame (25-5) at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend, Ind., on Friday at 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2) if not for a chuck-it-and-pray buzzer beater in the quarterfinals of the WAC tournament.

“I think that shot was just my lucky day,” Southern Utah guard Cherita Daugherty said. “I happened to be the one that had to take it.”

Luck. Skill. A combination. It doesn’t matter what you call it. The shot went in, and the Thunderbirds are in South Bend playing against one of the all-time great programs in the sport as a result.

They’re not here by accident.

“You see it every year,” Southern Utah head coach Tracy Sanders said. “There are upsets, just miraculous plays, different things that happen in games. That’s why we play the game. That’s why they call it March Madness, right?

“For us, I think we are in a good place right now. I think we feel good as a team. So I think we’re ready to just go out there and kind of show the world what we can do.”

Here’s the rest of what Daugherty, teammate Tomekia Whitman and Sanders said about Notre Dame a day before the commencement of the NCAA Tournament.

Southern Utah head coach Tracy Sanders

On what it means to be playing Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament: “It’s just exciting. I mean, I think as a group we’re super excited to be here. It’s fun to see the girls’ reactions. Just walking in the hotel, walking in the locker room, it’s kind of a surreal moment.

“Some of us have been here before [at stops prior to the transfer portal], but I think for them it’s just really fun to see them going through this experience. Ultimately this has been the goal since the beginning of the season. So to see it really happening, it’s an awesome experience.”

On Notre Dame playing without sophomore point guard Olivia Miles: “I think we went into it planning for her to be there. We wanted our team to be as prepared as possible. I think they’re a great team. Whether she’s on the floor, not on the floor, we’re going to have our work cut out for us. We just have to be ready.

“I don’t think the game plan is going to change too much, but we just have to be ready. They obviously have a lot of great players, a lot of different weapons. We need to be prepared and focused.”

More on Notre Dame point guard Olivia Miles

What the Olivia Miles season-ending injury means for Notre Dame women’s basketball

How Notre Dame PG Olivia Miles can learn from Niele Ivey and find a silver lining in her knee injury

On what Sanders remembers about facing Notre Dame as a player at Saint Mary’s in the 1999 NCAA Tournament: “It was a long time ago. I don’t remember too much. It’s funny, my coach from college pulled up a little bit of those memories. One of my assistant coaches pulled up the recap of the game. I don’t know how she found it because I don’t think we had Internet back then.

“Just an awesome experience as a player. I remember it was a pretty close game. I remember it was a tough, tough loss. Things just didn’t go our way there at the end. Obviously a great experience. I think something that you just, like I said, something you strive for every single year. There’s not a lot of teams that get to do it, so it just great to be in this position.”

On the pressure of playing in the NCAA Tournament: “Yeah, we haven’t talked a ton about it. I mean, I think one of the messages this morning was like it’s another game, we’re going to take it like any other game as far as we focus on the first couple minutes, the first few possessions, just being ready to go, understand that we’re going to be prepared.

“It’s a great team, so there’s not a lot of room for error. I think they know that. We played big teams. We did a lot of that in the pre-season. They’ve seen that before. I think we feel like we’re kind of more at full speed right now than we were in the pre-season. We have way more healthy bodies. We’re just in a better place. I’m just excited to see how we come out.”

On how Southern Utah can be competitive against Notre Dame: “I think for us, we’re going to have to handle pressure, which has been something we’ve struggled with a little bit throughout the year. So handling the pressure. Handling runs. Coming together when things get hard. I think that’s been one of the things that I feel like we learned from that tough pre-season, was that when things get hard, we come together, figure it out.

“Throughout this conference season, we’ve been really tested as far as overtime games, close games, coming back down 16, whatever it is. This is a team I feel like when the pressure’s on is when they shine. I kind of have a joke about it. I said that to them. I think of the New Mexico State game, one of the timeouts, ‘Hey, this is when you guys shine, it really is.’ To their credit, they’ve been able to do that. I’m just excited, like I said, for them to have this opportunity.”

On what it means to get Southern Utah to a national stage against Notre Dame: “It means the world. This is kind of, like I said, the goal, that we want to be a team every year that is competing for championships. It’s been fun to see the progress of that.

“Obviously there’s been great players these last few years that have really helped kind of buy into and build the program. I’m going to give my staff a ton of credit because I think I have the best staff in the country. They’ve helped our team get better. We’re always in the gym. They’re the best scout team that we have.

“I think we just have a really close group, whether it’s the team in general, us as a group, as a program. I think that they’re bought in and we have winners. We have people that want to compete. I feel like we’re finally at a point where winning is the expectation and losing is really, really hard. I think when you get to that point, you know you’ve created something special.”

Southern Utah guard Cherita Daugherty

On Notre Dame playing without Miles: “I think she’s a phenomenal player. I hate seeing any player go down with an injury, especially knees. That’s sad. I think it’s really sad. I hate seeing stuff like that. I wish it didn’t happen for her. I think it’s unfortunate for her and her team. I think we prepped for them just the way we prep for any team. I hate seeing players get hurt, so it’s unfortunate.”

On playing on a national stage against Notre Dame: “Just treat it like any other team, any other game. Once you start getting yourself worked up that you’re playing a big team, big school, great team, I think the nerves settle in a little more. I think taking it like any other game, five minutes at a time, that’s kind of been our motto for this year. So I think just treating it like any other game.”

On preparing to play against Notre Dame sophomore guard Sonia Citron: “She’s taller, so that’s one thing that we have to be aware of. She shoots the ball outside the arc really well. I think she gets to the basket well. She just finishes well. I know one thing we talk about is she’s going to have the ball in her hands with [Miles’] injury. She will have the ball in her hands, so that’s something we’ve had to scout for.In general, I think they’re a lot bigger than us, so that’s something we’re keying on. I mean, we have to focus on all of them, I guess.”

Southern Utah guard Tomekia Whitman

On Notre Dame playing without Miles: “I think she’s a phenomenal player. We’ve obviously seen a lot of their games even before we new the matchup or anything. It is very sad to see a player go down, especially the impact she’s had on their team. She’s a really great player, has made a great impact for their team. We’ve scouted them with her, now we can scout them without her. It’s very unfortunate, but it doesn’t change your game plan or what we’re planning on doing.”

On playing on a national stage against Notre Dame: “It’s a really special opportunity to be here. We can’t treat it any differently than any game we played. I think the minute we start acting like we’re playing a really great team, really great school outside of our conference, I think that’s making it a little stressed out and worried.

“I think our main thing right now is just take it first five minutes at a time. We are going to play a really great team, but we’re also a really great team. We made it this far. I think it will be a really great challenge. Just not worried too much about it.”

On preparing to play against Citron as Notre Dame’s primary ball-handler: “We’ve watched a lot of the Notre Dame games before. We’ve even got matchup to play with them. Like Olivia Miles, [Citron] is a great player. I think she’s phenomenal as well. She does a lot of great things for the program.

“With Miles being out, as we’ve scouted, she’s been a lot more of their player they go to for a lot of things they need. She’s a little bit taller. We definitely have to watch out for some size matchups. But I think she’s great and I think we’ve scouted really well. So I think it will be a good matchup for us.”