BY JEREMY HOECK
While most of the pre-season talk centered on the USD women’s basketball team coming off a trip to the NCAA Tournament, there were some scattered mentions of the team’s depth for 2014-15.
The Coyotes returned four starters and a handful of reserves from that Summit League championship squad.
Through 22 games in its title defense, USD (17-5, 7-2) has taken a significant step forward primarily because of that depth.
Averaging 79.4 points per game, the first-place Coyotes are ranked 10th nationally in scoring — one spot ahead of top-ranked South Carolina — and 27th in field goal percentage (44.4).
Their biggest improvement in one year, though?
The reserves have combined to average 24.2 points per game, highlighted by a 46-point output in Saturday’s rout of Oral Roberts.
“Our team really does play the best when we have lots of people contributing,” USD head coach Amy Williams said.
And that’s exactly what the Coyotes are getting.
Seniors Raeshel Contreras (16.2 ppg) and Nicole Seekamp (13.7) lead the way, while juniors Margaret McCloud (10.0) and Tia Hemiller (9.2), along with senior Lisa Loeffler (6.1), round out the starting five.
From there, however, the reserves are picking up the slack. Junior Kelly Stewart averages 6.1 points and 3.1 rebounds, while sophomore Bridget Arens from Crofton, Nebraska, adds 6.1 points and 4.2 rebounds.
The other reserves are freshman Kate Liveringhouse (6.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg), who had a season-best 21 points Sunday, as well as junior Heidi Hoff (3.3 ppg) and sophomore Jaylah Jackson (3.3 ppg).
In short: Spreading the wealth isn’t issue in Vermillion.
“That’s just Coyote basketball,” Contreras said Saturday. “We like to share the ball a lot.”
The only name from that group who wasn’t with USD last season was, of course, Liveringhouse, from Bellevue, Nebraska. She is the back-up to McCloud, who herself was a key reserve in the team’s run to a Summit League title last year.
“It’s nice to be able to give the team a spark and relieve those players who do need a break,” Liveringhouse said Saturday.
Also a season ago, the Coyotes had Arens (4.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg) and Stewart (5.7 ppg) as the key sparks off the bench. Hoff missed the final 21 games with injury, while Madeleine White (she transferred) and Taylor Moore were used sparingly — 10 minutes a game.
And so, here are the Coyotes, out to a 3-game improvement from last season at this time.
The key down the stretch? Staying consistent, from the starters on to those reserves.
“It lets them know that they are going to be counted on to bring something to the table, and that they’re capable of that,” Williams said.