The Oakland University women’s basketball team got a welcome addition back in their lineup to power their way to a 59-45 victory over the Southern Utah Thunderbirds Saturday.
Star senior center Brittany Carnago returned to the Golden Grizzlies (11-13, 7-8 Summit League) after missing the past three games with an undisclosed illness — and she made an immediate impact.
Carnago led the Oakland attack scoring 19 points on 6-8 shooting, dished out four assists and collected three rebounds. The career leader in blocks at OU, Carnago made her presence known on defense as well, swatting away eight attempts by the Thunderbirds (6-21, 2-14 Summit League).
Oakland head coach Beckie Francis was thrilled to have her senior back, especially since it helped the Golden Grizzlies to snap a four-game losing streak.
“(Carnago) was unbelievable tonight,” Francis said. “Her play invigorated all of us and helped give us a great team win.”
Francis did not start Carnago because she had not seen action since Jan. 30 against South Dakota State. Carnago came off the bench early in the game and she did not disappoint.In her first four minutes on the floor, Carnago had a block, four points and an assist.
“It feels really good to be back because it was really challenging to sit out three games; but my teammates kept me positive and encouraged,” Carnago said. “It was hard because this is the end of my career; but this is what I’m going to most remember, about how my teammates got me through this.”
One of those teammates that helped Carnago during that time was star junior forward Bethany Watterworth. However, Watterworth was quick to point out how Carnago was the one with the helping hand on Saturday night.
“It was great to have Brittany back tonight, she really opened it up with her scoring inside,” Watterworth said. “It opened up looks for me outside and she’s a great passer too, so we can feed off each other that way.”
Those open looks led to a game-high 20 points for Watterworth. She moved into 12th place on Oakland’s all-time scoring list with 1,440 career points after notching her eleventh game this season scoring at least 20 points.
While the offense from Carnago and Watterworth paced the Oakland attack, the defense from the Golden Grizzlies was stifling.
During a seven-minute stretch in the first half, the Thunderbirds were held without a basket. The Grizzlies were able to mount a 12-0 run during that time to put the game away early.
Sophomore guard Victoria Lipscomb came very close to getting a double-double for the Golden Grizzlies, notching 10 points, nine rebounds and six assists.
Not one player managed to crack double figures in points for Southern Utah, with the leading scorer for the Thunderbirds, Kimie Hawkins, only getting nine.
Oakland never trailed in the contest and led by as many as 16. In the second half, the margin was narrowed to eight points by Southern Utah, but after the twelve minute mark, the Grizzlies enjoyed a double-digit lead for the rest of the night.
“With this league, Southern Utah has to fly across the country to play us, and we know how hard that is from all the years that we have had to fly out there,” Francis said. “It is very tiring, so that was our play, to press them and to wear them down.”
The win gave Oakland the season sweep over the Thunderbirds, and locked a berth for the Golden Grizzlies in the Summit League tournament.
With the Thunderbirds leaving the Summit League for the Big Sky Conference at the end of the season, this was probably the last time these two teams will ever meet.
The victory improved Oakland to 14-0 against Southern Utah inside the O’rena and 24-5 all time against the Thunderbirds.
“I’d like to give credit to our team (on the 14-0 home record), but I really think it has something to do with travel,” Francis said. “Those Thunderbird legs are probably a little tired.”
On Monday night, Oakland continues its season against another team that will be departing the Summit League at the end of the year in Oral Roberts.
Monday’s contest is the last home game of the season, meaning it will be the last time for the home fans to see Carnago and Sharise Calhoun take the O’rena floor. ‘Senior Night’ is scheduled to start at 6:30p.m. against ORU.