BY JEREMY HOECK
Who would have predicted a No. 4 versus No. 6 for the Summit League women’s basketball championship?
Seeing nobody nodding their head, let’s examine just how the USD women controlled South Dakota State like they did in Monday afternoon’s semifinal.
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That was the obvious and most evident edge for the Coyotes.
Certain stat categories you can look and see proof of hustle and fire. Typically coaches would tell you to look at rebounds and second chance points.
Those areas on Monday: USD’s rebounding margin wasn’t overwhelming (just 42-39), but for a large portion of the game it was more lop-sided. The Coyotes did, however, dominate the second chance opportunities 19-8. And at one point, that was 19-2.
Asked about the post play later, USD pointed to being out-rebounded by the Jacks by 12 in a home loss in the regular season finale.
“We rebounded today. We had a want-to,” senior Polly Harrington said. “We went after every rebound we could, and when we did that, we got the ball.”
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As the second half progressed Monday, the former SDSU coach I was sitting next to at press table was continually impressed with USD’s grit.
With about four or five minutes to go, she was pointing out how the Jackrabbit fans — and there was certainly a majority in the stands — were quiet. And it was the USD fans that were making noise.
It was clear that SDSU’s reign as the league champions was coming to an end.
“That mystique will be gone here in a few minutes.”
Still, you just felt like something crazy could happen. Like the Jacks would somehow find some Arena magic. It was unrealistic, sure, that late, but perhaps that’s what makes USD’s win so monumental.
“I never felt comfortable. Not with a team like the Jacks,” USD coach Amy Williams said. “They made a nice run there, and we knew it was coming.
Beating the Jackrabbits in Sioux Falls just didn’t happen.
The Jacks had sure had their share of scares at the tournament; fans would remember SDSU trailing by 17 in the 2012 title game.
But at the same time, you just don’t do that to the Jackrabbits.
Not in Sioux Falls. Not in their home away from home. Not where the blue and yellow had never lost in the post-season tournament.
To be fair, SDSU coach Aaron Johnston tempered some of that by pointing out — and he’s got a good point — that on one day, for 40 minutes, his team was out-played. He described his team as coming out flat and tight. “Either of those words would describe how we played in the first 10 minutes.”
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And so, now comes Tuesday afternoon’s 1 p.m. nationally-televised championship game against Denver.
It’s an unlikely matchup, for sure.
Denver, the league newcomer, putting together an already impressive run through the tournament, going up against USD, which has lived in the shadow of SDSU’s successful women’s and men’s basketball programs. USD nearly had its chance at toppling the Jacks last year in the Summit League final, but came up three points short.
The Coyotes, though, will have another shot at their first NCAA Tournament appearance, in their second year of eligibility and six years since leaving the Division II waters — where they nearly left with a national title in 2008.
USD first has to win Tuesday to solidify Monday’s win as truly special, as Williams pointed out.
“This win for the girls that are sitting in the locker room means absolutely nothing if we don’t continue and take care of business tomorrow,” she said.