SDSU women top Coyotes 56-53 in Summit League title gameSIOUX FALLS — Championship games don’t always live up to their billing but South Dakota basketball fans witnessed a gem between a pair of basketball teams looking to make history.
By: Marcus Traxler, For The Daily Republic
SIOUX FALLS — Championship games don’t always live up to their billing but South Dakota basketball fans witnessed a gem between a pair of basketball teams looking to make history.
University of South Dakota senior Alexis Yackley’s three-pointer from the corner to tie the game with two seconds left bounced away and for the fifth-straight time, the South Dakota State University women’s basketball team claimed the Summit League tournament championship title, this time escaping from rival USD 56-53 in front of 6,153 boisterous fans at the Sioux Falls Arena.
“It doesn’t feel like a fifth, really,” SDSU coach Aaron Johnston said. “It feels like a great first-time experience. When you go through it with different players and they have to be in different situations and make different plays, it feels like a brand new thing.”
In all of the Jacks’ title triumphs, they’ve been decided by 10 points or less but the Coyotes — eligible for the national tournament for the first time — gave SDSU more than it bargained for. USD controlled the Jackrabbits under the basket, being a much more physical squad and turning the experienced SDSU squad into one that looked out of place.
“We were bound and determined to not let them get points in the paint,” Coyote coach Amy Williams said. “I think our kids executed that game plan perfectly.”
The Coyotes proved their worth in the first half, riding the efforts of Australian guard Nicole Seekamp, who scored 17 points in 16 minutes of play. USD took advantage of a brutal-shooting show from the Jacks in the first half, who shot 31 percent and had three starters in foul trouble with two apiece. However, there would be no easy way to finish off the Jackrabbits early, as SDSU narrowed a nine-point gap in the final four minutes to just 32-28 at halftime.
The Jackrabbits essentially started from scratch at halftime but this was hardly new territory for SDSU, which has trailed in three of its five league championship wins. SDSU wiped away the Coyotes’ lead in the first 2:22 of the second half, tying the game at 35 before the battle turned into a stalemate.
“It was a big game,” SDSU senior Ashley Eide said. “Championship games don’t come easy. We’ve had tough, close games this year and that’s really gotten us prepared to compete.”
The only regret for Williams was that her team put the Jackrabbits on the line too much in the second half — SDSU made 12 of 15 attempts — keeping the Jackrabbits in the ball game. Free throws also gave SDSU the lead for good when Eide hit a pair with 4:37 to go in the game for a 52-50 advantage.
Up three points with 7 seconds left and the ball at midcourt in Coyotes possession, SDSU decided to foul, a decision that is not usually made by Johnston. But he was talked into it by his assistants given the score and situation.
Yackley, who had only made 14 of her 37 free throw attempts all year, was fouled with five seconds left for a 1-and-1 opportunity. She missed the first but the ball was tipped to the corner, where the Iowa State transfer fired up a three-pointer. Yackley had only made four 3-pointers all year but her coach said it “looked good” off her hand, before rimming out and giving SDSU another conference championship.
“She got a decent look at it,” Williams said. “Either way, it was going to take a pretty special effort. We had a chance to send the game to overtime and it just didn’t go our way.”
At the horn, SDSU’s players and fans celebrated as they’ve done before. Afterward, Johnston said the game was key that his team didn’t spend time talking about their opponent being USD.
Seekamp finished the game with 20 points and was the first losing player to earn the tournament’s most valuable player award since 2004. Megan Waytashek was SDSU’s scoring leader with 11 points.
Since advancing to the second round in 2009, the Jackrabbits have lost in their first NCAA game in each of the last three years. Johnston agreed that SDSU is ready to win again in the Big Dance.
“The challenge you have at that level is you just see so much more athleticism,” he said. “People felt like this game was physical ... that is a whole another level of physical.”