Rare opportunity at USD

BY JEREMY HOECK
jeremy.hoeck@yankton.net

Kelly Stewart
South Dakota’s Kelly Stewart goes up to pressure a shot attempt by Marquette’s Allazia Blockton during their game earlier this season in Vermillion. (James D. Cimburek/P&D)

A unique situation is about to unfold in Vermillion.

A basketball program from a high-major conference – one of those Power 5 leagues you always hear about – will play a basketball game at the DakotaDome. Those are rare opportunities.

South Dakota State has been able to attract (and beat) high-major teams to Frost Arena in Brookings, but down at the University of South Dakota, it’s been a slow but steady process to lure in a big name. Yes, there are certainly opportunities come post-season time where a Colorado, for example, will play in your arena, but in terms of a regular season agreement, that’s tough sledding.

That changes for USD Saturday.

The University of Washington, of the Pac-12 Conference, will play a regular season game in Vermillion at 8 p.m. It will mark the return portion of a home-and-home contract that started with USD’s trip (and a 96-82 loss) to Seattle last season.

Being able to finalize a home-and-home agreement with a high-major program is certainly easier on the women’s side (the men, for example, would find it nearly impossible to ever bring in someone like a Washington, and the Coyotes were able to make it work with Washington.

“It’s very difficult to find that, especially as you improve,” USD head coach Amy Williams told me in a pre-season interview. “That’s a tough challenge, but coach (Chuck) Love has done a phenomenal job working things out like that.”

It all depends on first, the interest level, and from there, the ability to work out details such as a date, a return trip (it may not be the very next season), etc.

And in USD’s case, it was able to cap off the back end of a home-and-home with Washington and begin the first leg of a home-and-home with the University of Illinois. The Coyote women will visit Illinois on Dec. 22, and the Big Ten Conference program will make the return trip to Vermillion next season – for USD’s inaugural season in its new arena.

Those are certainly schools that attract a lot of attention.

And in USD’s case, being able to host a school like Washington marks the first of its kind in three years. Colorado, also of the Pac-12, visited Vermillion for the 2012 WNIT.

Unlike that matchup with Colorado, though, USD will be hosting tomorrow one of the best women’s basketball players in the country.

Washington junior guard Kelsey Plum is the nation’s leading scorer at 28.4 points a game. It’s a rare opportunity for Coyote fans to see a player of that caliber in person – unless they traveled to Brookings to see SDSU face Notre Dame earlier this season.

Plum, a 5-foot-8 native of Poway, California, owns a career best of 45 points and last season scored 37 points against USD.

Washington (6-2), though, is far from a one-person team. The Huskies are getting 18.3 points and 7.6 points a game from Talia Walton (6-foot-2), and 10.1 points and 10.6 rebounds from Chantel Osahor (6-foot-2).

A season ago, Washington won 23 games and reached the NCAA Tournament, and this season has only suffered losses to nationally-ranked Syracuse and nationally-ranked Oklahoma.

Put another way, this is a huge challenge for the Coyotes. But on the other hand, it’s a prime opportunity to pick up a signature victory; another one of those resume-building wins.

And don’t put it past the Coyotes to do exactly that.

Winners of six straight games, USD (6-3) is, like Washington, one of the nation’s top-scoring teams. The Huskies average a Pac-12-best 81.9 points per game, while the Coyotes average 80.6 points per game.

High-major vs. mid-major. It should be a good one.

Follow @jhoeck on Twitter

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