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USD upsets No. 1 seed SDSU women at Summit League tourney

South Dakota State freshman and Mitchell native Kerri Young dribbles the ball up the court during a semifinal game at the Summit League Championships Monday against the University of South Dakota at the Sioux Falls Arena. (Sean Ryan/Republic)

SIOUX FALLS — The yellow and blue reign over the Summit League women’s basketball tournament has come to an end.

Fourth-seeded University of South Dakota dominated the five-time defending champion and top-seeded South Dakota State University from start to finish during Monday’s semifinal, which the Coyotes won 72-58, in front of 5,871 fans at the Sioux Falls Arena.

It’s the first time the Jackrabbits have ever lost in the event, which decides the conference’s representative in the NCAA tournament, snapping a 15-game winning streak that dated back to 2009.

The game served as sweet revenge for the Coyotes, who were on the wrong end of last year’s nail-biting 56-53 loss to the Jacks in the conference title game. Now, with the Summit’s giant out of the tournament, USD (18-13) has a chance at school history today at 1 p.m. against Denver, who picked up a 76-69 overtime win over second-seeded IUPUI.

“This win for the girls in the locker room means nothing if we don’t take care of business tomorrow,” USD coach Amy Williams said. “We’re always striving to be at that championship level.”

But SDSU (22-9) never looked like that championship team on Monday, the one who has traditionally dominated in March. The Coyotes won almost every loose ball and were the more physical aggressors in the game. SDSU missed open shots from close range and struggled to come up with any defensive rebounds, as USD made the Jacks pay with 17 second-chance points in the first half to build a 12-point halftime lead.

The Coyotes only built on the lead to open the second half and a jumper from Nicole Seekamp gave USD a 23-point lead with 12 minutes left in the game. SDSU mounted a 12-0 answering run with 7 minutes left but the Coyote cushion held up to stave off SDSU’s push and seal a victory.

“We didn’t play well … sometimes it happens. Today was a bad day for that to happen,” SDSU head coach Aaron Johnston said. “We had a hard time with that early physicality and energy. By the time we had some urgency, it was too late.”

Williams was most proud of the effort of her defense, which had allowed 88 and 99 points in the first two meetings between the rivals this year, both SDSU wins. On Monday, the Coyotes stifled the SDSU offense, holding the Jacks to 31 percent shooting from the floor and caused 16 turnovers.

“I think that was one of our best defensive games of the season,” Williams said. “I think our team took offense to getting out-rebounded by 12 last time.”

Mitchell native Kerri Young said her SDSU squad came out too flat in the first half and wasn’t aggressive enough to start the game.

“I think in the first half they just showed that they had a little more fire than we did, and I think they got on the boards better than we did,” she said. “I think coming out with a little better energy and fire in the first half would have helped us out.”

Young, playing in her first Summit League tournament as a freshman, finished the game with eight points, all coming in the second half. She finished 2-of-6 from the field and 4-of-4 from the free throw line. She said the first-half hole proved to be too big to climb.

“I think at the beginning we just dug ourselves a hole, so in the second half when we got some momentum and we started to get some stops, we had to dig ourselves out of that hole,” Young said.

But unlike in previous years, where the Jackrabbits would power their way behind a blue partisan crowd, that run never came. In fact, USD controlled the game from the start and only seemed to get stronger as the second half wore on, while the Jacks’ chances withered away.

USD was led by 19 points from Seekamp and 18 points from senior forward Polly Harrington. SDSU’s Megan Waytashek scored 18 for the Jacks and senior Steph Paluch added 12 points.

While the Jackrabbits’ chances of making the NCAAs are not completely finished, Johnston said the loss is a bad one from a numbers perspective because the Jacks, with an RPI ranking of 43, could not afford a loss to a team at 167, where the Coyotes rank. Instead, SDSU will likely qualify for the women’s NIT. Johnston said his program has never thought about stringing years of NCAA appearances, instead focusing on one year at a time.

“I’m pretty down in the dumps,” Johnston said. “We’ve never lumped them together like everyone else. One in a row is incredibly hard to win and it’s a whole new experience each year. We’ll move on and we’ll try to learn from it.”