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Michigan clips Coyotes in Sweet 16, ending USD's NCAA run

Last-second three rims off, ending USD's season at 29-6

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South Dakota's Hannah Sjerven, center, is swarmed by the defense of Michigan's Emily Kiser and Danielle Rauch during the NCAA Wichita Regional semifinal at Intrust Bank Arena on Saturday, March 26, 2022 in Wichita, Kansas.
Marcus Traxler / Mitchell Republic

WICHITA, Kan. -- The Coyotes found themselves one shot short on Saturday night.

Kyah Watson’s last-second 3-pointer bounced away for the 10th-seeded University of South Dakota, allowing Michigan to escape with a 52-49 Sweet 16 win in the Wichita Regional semifinal game at Intrust Bank Arena and ending a dream season in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.

It was the balance that the Coyotes had to consider in the aftermath of the loss, being one play away from overtime and potentially earning another upset to reach the Elite Eight but also trying to provide the perspective of the school’s best finish in Division I history, reaching the second weekend and finishing the season at 29-6.

“It's hard to lose. You always want one more,” USD coach Dawn Plitzuweit said. “But it certainly wasn't from a lack of effort, lack of anything. We just needed to make one more play in all reality. Sometimes in the game of basketball things go your way and we probably didn't get enough of those things either to go our way, so that makes it tough.”

The Wolverines (25-6) are advancing to the Elite Eight for the first time in program history. They will take on top-seeded Louisville at 8 p.m. Monday for the right to go to the Final Four.

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South Dakota's Chloe Lamb (22) defends Michigan's Maddie Nolan (3) during the NCAA Wichita Regional semifinal at Intrust Bank Arena on Saturday, March 26, 2022 in Wichita, Kansas.
Marcus Traxler / Mitchell Republic

Trailing by five points into the final two minutes, the Coyotes made their charge. Kyah Watson had a 3-pointer from the left wing to cut the Michigan lead to 48-46, and Chloe Lamb had a jumper in the paint to tie the game at 48-all with 51 seconds remaining.

On the next possession, Laila Phelia drove to the basket and made a tough off-balance shot to give Michigan the lead. Lamb missed a jumper to potentially tie the game and after a fouling, Leigha Brown made two free throws for Michigan to put the Wolverines up four points with 11 seconds left.

USD’s Maddie Krull drove hard to the basket and drew a foul with 9 seconds left, making the first and missing the second, with the rebound caroming out of bounds off Michigan. South Dakota’s last chance then was in the hands of Watson, with the Wolverines defending the perimeter well and forcing the last shot to miss.

“South Dakota had an incredible season, has an incredible team,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “They were really impressive and we had to do everything that we could to come away with a victory tonight.”

USD’s senior guards Lamb and Liv Korngable were mostly quiet in the game, each scoring six points in the game, with Lamb battling foul trouble in the first half and Korngable finishing 3-for-13 from the field. Michigan spent the night double-teaming the ball-handler on screens and putting pressure on the Coyote guards, with Barnes Arico saying they wanted to speed up USD's offense and force quicker shots.

Sometimes that led to big shots for the Coyotes. Freshman Grace Larkins had nine points on three 3-pointers, including two big triples in the second quarter to put the Coyotes back into the lead and help them hold a 26-24 advantage at intermission.

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South Dakota's Kyah Watson prepares to shoot a 3-pointer during the NCAA Wichita Regional semifinal against Michigan at Intrust Bank Arena on Saturday, March 26, 2022 in Wichita, Kansas.
Marcus Traxler / Mitchell Republic

A Coyote win would have secured the longest NCAA tournament run by a member school in Summit League history. It was just the third time this season and the 12th time in Dawn Plitzuweit’s career that a USD team led at halftime and did not win the game. It is only the third loss for USD in Plitzuweit’s six-year tenure when the opponent scored fewer than 60 points.

The expected battle of the centers for each team played itself out, with Michigan’s Naz Hillmon leading the Wolverines with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Lalia Phelia had 14 points and Leigha Brown had 10 points from off the bench for Michigan, which shot 38.5% for the game, converted only three of 17 3-pointers and was 9-for-11 on free throws.

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USD finished the game shooting 36.5% and converting 5-of-20 3-pointers, along with 6-of-10 free throws.

The Coyotes had a massive crowd advantage in the game, with thousands of USD fans in the building and making the 400-plus-mile trip down to Wichita.

"Losing sucks for a lot of reasons. I think one of those being you forget all the good stuff that happened, right? It's hard to think about that right now, but I think looking at any point in that game, looking out into the crowd and seeing the sea of red, I think we did a pretty good job," Lamb said, reflecting on how the Coyotes' run resonated with fans.

Plitzuweit commended the team for qualifying for four NCAA tournaments in a row (counting the 2020 tournament, which was canceled due to COVID-19) and for winning not one but two games in the NCAA tournament.

"That's almost unheard of at the mid-major level and to do that, that's hard," Plitzuweit said. "That's really, really hard and then to get to the tournament and to win a first-round game is really hard to do. And then to win a second game. So I think it's -- what they have done has been nothing short of compete at a very, very high level. And they did it again (tonight)."

Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at mtraxler@mitchellrepublic.com.
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