SIOUX FALLS — If there is a lesson through the first three days of the Summit League Tournament, it is that nothing should be taken for granted.
That is something top-seeded South Dakota State will be keeping in mind as it plays in the league championship game against Missouri-Kansas City today (Tuesday) at Sioux Falls Arena.
SDSU has never lost in a Summit League Tournament game, a string of 11 straight wins and, to date, three NCAA Tournament appearances. The Jackrabbits will be looking to extend their record with a fourth NCAA bid to begin their post-season eligibility.
The Jackrabbits, though, come into the game dealing with the season-ending injury to starter Steph Paluch, who went down with a knee injury in Monday’s win over IUPUI.
“Everybody can always find a way to get another player on the floor. We can look at Gabby [Boever], we can look at Tara [Heiser]. I think we all feel comfortable with either of those two,” said SDSU head coach Aaron Johnston. “It’s sad to see someone who has been there all year long not be able to be there for such a big game tomorrow. These things can go both ways. They can stay with you and hold you back. Also, they can be a rally point. I really hope the team looks at that.”
In the two Summit tourney games, the Jackrabbits have had three different bench players and seven different players overall reach double figures in scoring. While the team has averaged 79.5 points a game, no Jackrabbit has scored more than 14 points in any one contest.
Senior Jennie Sunnarborg has led the team at 13.5 points per game in the tournament, with Jill Young (10 ppg), Ashley Eide (9 ppg) and Leah Dietel (3.5 ppg) rounding out the available starters.
Gabrielle Boever (9.5 ppg) and Tara Heiser (7.5 ppg) are potential replacements for Paluch in the starting lineup. Katie Lingle (10.5 ppg) has also provided a lift off the bench.
Similarly, UMKC has had no player score more than 15 points as the Kangaroos have posted 72 and 71 points in their first two victories. But, unlike the Jacks, only one of the five players to reach double-figure scoring for the ‘Roos has been a reserve.
UMKC comes into the title game with a seven-game win streak, making the league’s championship for just the second time in school history (2005). The Kangaroos know they will have their hands full.
“For us, we have to keep them off the foul line. We’ve got to be able to defend them internally without fouling. If we can keep [the ball] out of [Jennie] Sunnarborg’s hands, that’d be great. You tend to see them make runs when they can get three’s off transition. I mean today, Jill Young hit three in a row and you just can’t let that happen,” said UMKC head coach Candace Whitake. “They’re tough to guard because they have good inside and outside game. They move the basketball well. They seal inside as well as anyone I’ve seen. They’ll high-low you to death if you allow them to.”
For the tournament, Kim Neziana (13.5 ppg), Dayon Hall-Jones (13 ppg) and Eilise O’Connor (13 ppg) have all been consistent performers, the only three ‘Roos to score in double figures in both games. LeAndra Thomas (9.5 ppg) has provided a spark off the bench, including 11 in UMKC’s opening round win over Oakland. Ashli Hill (9 ppg) and Brianna Eldridge (5 ppg) round out the first five.
Game time is 3 p.m. at Sioux Falls Arena. Jeremy Hoeck (@jhoeck) will be at the game for the Press & Dakotan. The game is also being televised on ESPNU.
Among the side notes for SDSU, Young has scored all 22 of her points in the tournament in the second half of games.