Champs again: South Dakota State women's basketball bombs Omaha to claim Summit League title
Jackrabbits capture 10th conference tournament championship; will play in NCAA tournament for 11th time
SIOUX FALLS — There was really only one question on the minds of fans and observers heading into Tuesday's Summit League tournament women's final: Could the 6th-seeded Mavericks from Omaha make it a game against top-seeded South Dakota State?
Answer: No, they could not.
The Jackrabbits wasted no time in removing any doubt as to who would be representing the conference in this year's NCAA tournament, dispatching Omaha 93-51 in a game that was over mere minutes after it had started. The Jacks led 21-8 after one quarter and if that was a discouraging start for the Mavericks it only got worse from there.
The Jacks built their lead as high as 30 in the second quarter and led by 28 at halftime. That removed any potential drama or tension from the proceedings, as the second half was reduced to a countdown to the inevitable.
A crowd of 6,002 was on hand, and it was nice of those Jacks fans to show up, given that they knew as well as everyone else did that there was virtually no way their team would lose this game.
There was never any real need for the fans to get loud, so they never really did, at least until it was over, and the trophy was presented and the Jacks celebrated their first conference tournament championship since 2019.
"It's been awhile," said senior Myah Selland, who along with Paiton Burckhard are the only two Jackrabbits remaining from that 2019 team. "We talked about how we've missed this feeling and we wanted to do it again. To do it with (Paiton) and the rest of the team is really special."
SDSU completes the season sweep of the entire conference, going 21-0 in league games. Each of the last nine came by at least 20 points, with an average margin of victory of 32.9. Tuesday's title win was by far the most lopsided in tournament history, blowing away the previous record, which came when USD beat Omaha by 23 in 2021.
Coach Aaron Johnston insisted it wasn't easy. But, boy, it sure looked easy.
"Defensively we just played so well, throughout the entire tournament," the coach said. "That can make things look easier than they are, but it is hard to defend as well as we did, for three straight days, at that level."
Haleigh Timmer was named the tournament MVP - she had 18 points on Tuesday after dropping 25 in Monday's semifinals. Timmer was 7-of-8 from the floor against Omaha, making all four of her attempts from behind the 3-point line.
"It's special," Timmer said of winning her first Summit League tournament. "Especially coming back from last year, falling short (and settling for a WNIT title). It means a lot because this team has worked so hard to get here. A lot of it is behind the scenes and I'm just so proud of this group."
Paige Meyer was just as efficient, finishing with 16 points on 5-of-6 shooting with five rebounds and four assists, while Burckhard had 14 points and Selland 11. Selland, from Letcher, and Burckhard, from Aberdeen, checked out with five minutes to go, the last time they'd ever walk off a basketball court in their home state, and were rewarded with a standing ovation.
They're two of the best in program history, and the run the team is on now ranks with the best basketball ever seen from this program.
"I thought we played incredible basketball here over the last several weeks, not just this weekend but for a long time," Johnston said. "That's taken a lot of focus and concentration and effort. There's a lot that goes into getting to this point."
The Jackrabbits (28-5) will find out where they're headed for the NCAA tournament on Sunday night. The Selection Show is set for 7 p.m.
A double-digit seed seems likely based on early prognostications. That would present a challenging road for SDSU, but certainly not one in which NCAA touranment wins are not attainable.
"I think this team has a lot of potential," Burckhard said. "We're really deep and really focused this time of year and we're just ready to go and willing to take any punches. Being able to come out on top in this tournament points us in the right direction."