BY JEREMY HOECK
(For press conference video from Saturday’s doubleheader, click here)
It’s far from a new obstacle for the University of South Dakota men’s and women’s basketball programs, but starting their seasons away from the DakotaDome naturally brings some frustrations.
Not to mention some early struggles.
With the football season now going later into November (with the future potential of FCS playoffs extending that schedule), the Coyote men and women saw more time away from their home court.
The men’s team played nine of its first 12 games on the road, digging itself a 3-9 hole.
The Coyotes (5-9), though, have started a 5-game homestand with consecutive wins.
“It helps a lot that you don’t have six straight games on the road,” interim head coach Joey James said Saturday after beating Iowa Wesleyan 86-52.
“Being back home, it helps a ton. Any team in the country would tell you that.”
The women, meanwhile, played their first five games away from Vermillion (7 of their first 8), losing four straight before coming home.
It didn’t help the team having to move two home games — Drake to Sioux Falls and S.D. School of Mines to Rapid City.
And so naturally, a big reason why the Coyotes have won seven of their last games is the DakotaDome.
“The big difference is we’ve had a few more home games,” head coach Amy Williams said Saturday after beating Cleveland State 74-70. “Everyone wants to talk about that losing streak we had early in the year, but to me it was because we were playing a lot of tough games on the road.”
As if being away from home wasn’t enough, the USD women are now down two starters — Nicole Seekamp for a short time (ankle) and Heidi Hoff for the season (ACL).
What has made the difference in the current 8-game stretch?
“We’ve really been focusing on the aggressive plays, the extra hustle, diving out of bounds to save the ball, going after every rebound,” sophomore Margaret McCloud said. “Working on the little things.
“Because the little things make a huge difference.”
Other items of note from the weekend:
• Because of travel issues, Cleveland State wasn’t able to fly into South Dakota until early Saturday meaning. USD moved the game from 2 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. to accomodate the Vikings. But what would have happened if Cleveland State wasn’t able to make that morning flight from Chicago? USD would have moved the game to the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls; it had rented the arena just in case.
• The USD men lost starting wing Karim Rowson to a sprained ankle in the first half Saturday (he played only eight minutes). He was in crutches for the second half, but said on Twitter he expects to be back to practice Monday. Sophomore reserve Casey Kasperbauer didn’t play because of the flu, but is expected to be back at practice this week.
• Speaking of injuries, the USD women were without leading scorer Nicole Seekamp for a second straight game Saturday. She has been nursing an ankle injury, said Williams who was unsure when Seekamp would return. “She hasn’t had the progress that I would have had liked to see, but we’ll just keep her rehabbing and getting treatment,” the coach said.
• In good news for the women’s squad, third-year sophomore guard Kelly Stewart is back practicing. She missed all of season with a foot injury, but will be a “good addition” to the wing spot when she eventually sees the floor, Williams said.