South Dakota State women's basketball bounced from NCAA tournament by Virginia Tech
Jackrabbits fought hard but couldn't overcome top-seeded Hokies
BLACKSBURG, Va. — For most of Sunday night, Virginia Tech looked every bit the part of national championship contender that they're alleged to be. And when they didn't, 9th-seeded South Dakota State failed to take advantage.
The 4th-ranked and No. 1 seed Hokies held off the Jackrabbits 72-60 in front of 8,925 Cassell Coliseum fans on the VT campus to advance to the Sweet 16 of the women's NCAA tournament.
It ended one of the best seasons in SDSU women's basketball history at 29-6. The Hokies (29-4) advance to the round of 16 for just the second time in program history and first since 1999.
Georgia Amoore's 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down was the one that finally clinched it, as SDSU spent the whole game paddling upstream, only to be sunk on the Australian's jumper that pushed the lead to 14 with 62 seconds to play.
The Jackrabbits were coming off a hard-fought first round win over Southern California, hoping to spring a major upset. Given SDSU's history of success in the tournament and the Hokies' inexperience as a title contender, the idea felt realistic.
The Hokies, however, made sure that would not happen. They hit five of their first six attempts from 3-point land to build a double-digit lead in the first quarter, and though the Jackrabbits admirably refused to ever stop fighting back, they played virtually the entire game trailing by more than a dozen points. A Tori Nelson driving layup with 8:20 to go got the Jacks within 12 at 61-49, and after cutting it to 11 Paiton Burckhard had a wide-open layup on a fast break that would've had the lead under 10 for the first time in the second half. She somehow missed it.
Moments later, Myah Selland cut the lead to 10 with a 3-point play, and Haleigh Timmer missed a good look at a 3 that would've got them within seven. VT answered with a 3 at the other end.
It was like that all night. The Jacks had so many open or high-percentage shots that could've changed the course of the game. But they didn't make enough of those, and when they missed, the Hokies answered.
"I'm sure we'll lose sleep over a couple of them," Selland said of her team's crucial misses. "We're competitors. But (Virginia Tech) is a great program. A great team. They played great tonight, too. We never felt like we were quite out of it and believed in each other until the very end."
SDSU outscored the Hokies 37-26 in the second half. The VT crowd was at times deafening, giving the Jacks a taste of the home court atmosphere they usually lean on so heavily back home. But the Jacks seemed to earn the respect of that crowd, and certainly that of the Hokies themselves.
"South Dakota State — tremendous ballclub, very well-coached and disciplined," said Hokies coach Kenny Brooks. "They're tough. We knew we were going to have our hands full, but the kids came out, got off to a great start. You give them credit; we knew they were going to continue to come after us, and they did a really good job in doing that."
Two sequences in the first half were really what killed SDSU's chances. There was the stretch from midway through the first quarter to early in the second, in which the Hokies took a 19-7 lead after one and pushed it to 29-9. The fans smelled a blowout, but SDSU stayed calm and chipped away. They got within 13 late in the second quarter and seemed to be stealing momentum.
That's when VT struck for a lightning quick 10-0 spurt going into halftime, taking a 46-23 lead into the break.
The Hokies made 12-of-16 shots in the second quarter and 8-of-14 3s for the half.
"I didn't think our plan early on — in hindsight, it's easy, it was probably good enough, but those are hard to walk away from as a coach," said SDSU's Aaron Johnston, seeming to slightly second guess himself. "But (the Hokies) shot it really well, and that was tough, and we made some adjustments, and I think we settled in a little bit better defensively.
"In the second half, I thought we were really resilient and settled in and honestly, we played really good basketball probably for the last 24 minutes," he added. "We had chances to make it closer for sure, good looks that would have changed kind of the feel of that game."
Indeed, the Jacks defense toughened up in the second, holding VT to 9-of-31 shooting. Despite the presence of 6-foot-6 ACC player of the year Elizabeth Kitley in the middle, the Jacks outscored the Hokies 38-26 in the paint. The 3-balls were what hurt.
"They made some really big shots early and late," Johnston said. "They had a couple of daggers there where we felt like we were getting back into it, and that got the crowd going and turned the momentum again."
Amoore had 21 points for the Hokies who will face the winner of 4th-seeded Tennessee and 12-seed Toledo on Saturday in Seattle. The win was their 13th in a row and the 29 wins set a new single-season school record. Kitley added 14 points, 14 rebounds and five blocked shots while Taylor Soule had 13 points and seven boards.
Selland led the Jacks with 17 points and nine rebounds. Timmer and Paige Meyer each added 12 points, while Kallie Theisen had eight points, seven rebounds and two steals. The Jacks saw their school-record 22-game winning streak snapped with the loss.
SDSU has played No. 2 seeds in the NCAA tournament before and threatened to beat them. USD beat a 2-seed in last year's tournament when they knocked off Baylor to reach the Sweet 16. A 1-seed is a different story, though, especially in the women's game, where the top tier of the top tier tends to be at another level. Even in a double-digit loss, the Jacks looked like beating a No. 1 seed is something they're capable of doing.
"Oh, I think so, for sure," Johnston said. "That's not a knock against No. 1 seeds. I just think that's more of a belief in our program. But if you're going to beat a No. 1, the bottom line is you've got to have some things go your way, and you've got to have some things kind of go against them, and they shot it so well in that first half that that doesn't go our way."