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South Dakota takes on big challenge in NCAA second round at Baylor

Coyotes seeking to end Baylor's home NCAA tournament dominance

NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament - First Round-South Dakota at Mississippi
The South Dakota women's basketball team celebrates a play during the NCAA tournament first round against Ole Miss on Friday, March 18, 2022 at the Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas.
Chris Jones / USA Today Sports

WACO, Texas — South Dakota got the boulder off its back with a win in the NCAA Tournament on Friday.

Now the Coyote women’s basketball team will try to go Bear hunting for a bid in the Sweet 16. It will not be a small task, taking on the No. 2-seeded Baylor, which is trying to get to the Sweet 16 for the 13th consecutive tournament. The game will tip off at 5 p.m. Sunday at the Ferrell Center on the Baylor University campus.

South Dakota (28-5) is balancing enjoying the successes of Friday’s win with the reality of taking on the Big 12 regular season champions who were No. 7 in the most recent Associated Press poll.

Over the last 20 years, Baylor (28-6) simply does not lose at home in the NCAA tournament. At the Ferrell Center, Baylor has won 66 straight non-conference home games, including 15 NCAA tournament games. It has not lost a home NCAA tournament game since 2002, when it fell to Drake in the second round.

“You want to try to find ways to balance them enjoying the moment but also getting ready to play,” USD coach Dawn Plitzuweit said. “And I thought our young ladies did a really good job of that in terms of being ready for our first round opponent in Ole Miss. Now the challenge is even greater. And so can we find that balance and can we play well enough to compete? Those are all things that we're trying to figure out at this point in time.”

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After the Coyotes’ 75-61 win over Ole Miss in the first round on Friday, Plitzuweit said she had not looked ahead to see what the second round of the tournament would call for regarding practices and other obligations. The Coyotes said Saturday that they will be ready for playing in a difficult place to win games.

“We saw our 10-seed, and we knew that the road would not be easy,” USD’s Maddie Krull said. “We know that there would be challenges the whole way, but we've played in challenging environments before. And I think about comparing it to kind of a Frost Arena, where we play there against our rivals (South Dakota State), it can get loud. And I think it will be loud. But I think that those are also super fun environments for us to play in, and I think that that's also something that we can use to kind of feel and kind of get going at certain points in the game.”

NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament - First Round-South Dakota at Mississippi
South Dakota Coyotes head coach Dawn Plitzuweit looks on during an NCAA tournament first-round game against Ole Miss at the Ferrell Center on March 18, 2022 in Waco, Texas.
Chris Jones / USA Today Sports

Baylor, which is a No. 2 seed or better for the 11th straight year, is 16-2 all-time playing in the second round of the NCAA tournament. It won the Big 12 regular-season championship for the 12th consecutive season earlier this year. The Bears blew out Hawaii in the first round 89-49 on Friday.

“I think that preparation going into it was how we were all able to succeed out there,” USD’s Allison Peplowski said. “And I think that's kind of the same thing going into the Baylor game, although we have quite a bit shorter time to prepare. … It's all about playing tough and playing really hard.”

NaLyssa Smith, the 6-foot-4 senior forward, is the Bears’ leading scorer averaging 22.4 points and 11.6 rebounds per contest and was the Big 12 Player of the Year and a first-team All-American according to a few national outlets.

“It's not one person's job just to guard a great player like NaLyssa Smith. It's all of our responsibilities,” USD guard Liv Korngable said.

Baylor is led by first-year coach Nicki Collen, who previously coached the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, and has picked up the mantle from former stalwart coach Kim Mulkey, who left Baylor for LSU.

“You're replacing a legend. That's really, really hard, and I think she's done really a tremendous, tremendous job because the toughness and the grittiness defensively of Baylor women's basketball has continued,” Plitzuweit said. “Then, on top of it, they also shoot the ball at a very high percentage and shoot it more, and then they stretch the floor. … It's really -- it's really fun to watch it, again, until you have to play against them and see that.

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NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament - First Round-Hawaii at Baylor
Baylor Lady Bears forward NaLyssa Smith (1) controls the ball against Hawai’i guard Olivia Davies (45) during an NCAA tournament first round game on Friday, March 18, 2022 at the Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas.
Chris Jones / USA Today Sports

Collen heaped praise on USD’s Chloe Lamb, who had 20 points on Friday, as someone who she believes is a WNBA talent.

“She's going to be in the draft,” Collen said. “There's no question in my mind. I don't know where people have her projected right now, but she's a big guard with skill and I think can play with the ball in her hands, can play without the ball in her hands. I think she's got a chance to be pretty special.”

South Dakota looks to join South Dakota State’s 2019 team as the only Summit League women’s programs to reach the Sweet 16. The winner of the game will play either No. 3 Michigan or No. 11 Villanova on Saturday, March 26 in Wichita, Kansas.

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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