BY CHRIS RILEY
BROOKINGS — Last Sunday’s contest between USD and SDSU was a big game for obvious reasons, but some not-so-obvious as well.
-It marks the third meeting of the two schools since their rivalry was renewed in 2011-12
-The Yotes and Jacks were the last two remaining unbeaten teams in the Summit League – even though it is very early in the conference season, but more on that a little later
– It was the first game against SDSU for new Coyote head coach Amy Williams and a number of her freshman and newcomers
– SDSU entered the game winners of their previous four contests and seven of the past eight
-USD was going for their first victory in Brookings since the 1989-90 season – 23 YEARS!
And the not-so-obvious…
-A SDSU victory would tie Aaron Johnston with his mentor and Brookings/SDSU legend, Nancy Neiber for first place in school women’s basketball history with 301 victories. (Neiber was 301-140 in 16 seasons from 1985-2000 – Johnston entered the game 300-104 from 2000-2013).
-SDSU entered the game with an up-tempo style of play, routinely scoring over 60 points per contest with a season high of 82 in their most recent game, a 82-47 thumping of Kansas City three days prior, while USD prides itself on solid defense, allowing only seven of 15 opponents thus far to reach 60 points, and three times holding their opposition to less than less than 50 points.
As you probably already know, SDSU used a 54% first-half shooting effort (compared to USD’s first half of 35%) to post a 72-60 victory. Although the game was never really in doubt, SDSU was unable to ever completely pull away from the Yotes and that fact seemed to frustrate Coach Johnston and a pair of Jackrabbit players in the post-game press conference – after all, SDSU had won their previous two home games by a combined 54 points!
Some insights of different aspects of the game from those involved….
USD senior guard Tempestt Wilson (team-high 19 points, 8-17 from the field) on playing at the Frost Arena against the Jacks and preparing for the rivalry game with a new coach: “I knew coming into this Arena it would be a tough one. We just dug a whole in the first half and got out-worked. They move the ball really quickly and take quick shots. It was the same preparation (as last year with R. Williams). We just need to follow through with our game plan and execute it.”
Sophomore guard Nicole Seekamp on her first-half shooting struggles (1-9 from the field in first half) and staying with her game plan (Seekamp finished with 15 points, shooting 5-7 in the second half): “In the first half my shots weren’t falling so I just tried to stay aggressive and attack the rim to get my confidence up a little bit so if I had to take a shot outside it might have gone in.”
And on playing in the Frost: “We knew it would be a large crowd and obviously we had to try not to think about that and focus on ourselves and not think about what the opposition is doing. If we just stay aggressive and focus on ourselves I think we can be good enough.”
SDSU senior guard Ashley Eide (game-high 22 points on 50% FG shooting and 5-6 from the FT line) on how she treats this rivalry contest: “It’s a rivalry game but it’s another conference game…. it’s another win for us, that is what we are going out there to do.”
And about how SDSU kept a 10-point lead throughout the second half but could not seem to put USD away: “They are a tough team and they stuck with us but we made plays when we had to. We had players step up and just make some big plays towards the end.”
SDSU sophomore forward Megan Waytashek (15 points and team-high six rebounds, 4-6 from field and 6-6 at the charity stripe) on SDSU winning their fifth game in a row: “(The keys are) Playing as a team and starting off strong and continuing to push the ball and play to our strengths.
On rebounding against USD – a team known this year for their success on the boards: “We knew they were a very good offensive boarding team… at half-time they had eight and we really focused on keeping the guards off the glass because they crash really hard and we held them to two (in the second half) so we did a lot better job in the second half.”
First-year USD head coach Amy Williams on playing in Brookings against SDSU and how she tried to prepare her team for this match-up: “Wow, what an atmosphere for this type of game. It is special to be a part of this rivalry series and what a fun atmosphere to come into. I was pleased with the way our kids really battled and competed which is what I would have expected in this type of game.”
“What we tried to do was take a business as usual approach. We tried not to make it bigger than it was, just the next game on our schedule. What we’ve tried to do with every single game so far this year is to say that the next game on our schedule is the most important game. I feel like our approach was good, I feel like our kids were very prepared, I feel like we at times didn’t defend the way we wanted to, and we didn’t always execute the way we prepared to execute but I felt like we were overall prepared and ready to play today.”
On SDSU’s strengths: “Now that I have seen them in person I am a believer that they are very physical and very deep. They have lots of kids who can come in and contribute and make big plays. They are very fundamentally sound and execute their offense with great timing”
“They are very physical and took our post players out of the game. They made us pay when we turned the basketball over – that’s obvious with 19 points off turnovers and kind of shoving it down our throats and making us pay when we had mistakes.”
On Jackrabbit standout Ashley Eide: “She’s a special player and she is difficult to guard. She can shoot the three, she can go off the dribble, she is strong enough to take a hit and I certainly will not be disappointed when we don’t have to guard her anymore.”
SDSU head coach Aaron Johnston on the win (which moved him into a tie for first-place on the SDSU women’s basketball all-time list with predecessor Nancy Neiber @ 301 victories): “Good win for us today, I don’t think there was anything exceptional or fancy; it was a very methodical game. They (USD) played really hard, there were times we had a chance to push a lead, their effort level prevented us from doing that.”
“I just think we are playing really well offensively, there is a lot of confidence on our team.”
On how this year’s Coyotes squad differs from last season: “They are very different, the pace they play at is faster. Offensively I think they are harder to defend because there are so many more options out there – they don’t just try to isolate one player so you can think about stopping one player. They just play so hard, every one of their players every position is very vested in trying to execute that possession.”
On Ashley Eide: “Ashely has been wonderful for us – she is really hard to defend, shoot’s the three ball really well. Her energy on the court is contagious. She’s not out there just going nut but she gets that little grin on her face and is feeling good I think the rest of the team responds to that well.”
About conference games early in the Summit League season and if USD will be around at the end of league play: “I don’t think it’s ever too early or too late, every game in a conference schedule if you’re trying to win a conference championship is important. I don’t think anyone can undervalue a conference victory when the goal is trying to be a conference champion – this game was very important. Teams that play really hard, teams that defend really well are going to be there at the end – I think USD clearly does that.”
And on tying his mentor Nancy Neiber for the all-time wins record at SDSU: “It’s awkward I think because I still look at this as Nancy’s program. Before she came here it wasn’t what it is now. Part of what we’ve done now is a continuation of what Nancy did.”
This was the type of hard-played 40-minute battle that you expect from two rivals – and hopefully the season series finale will not disappoint. SDSU travels to Vermillion on Wednesday, January 30 to take on the Coyotes in the DakotaDome at 7 p.m.
Just dreaming… but imagine the crowd that would pack into the Arena for a SDSU/USD Summit League Championship with a NCAA Tournament berth on the line….. cross your fingers!