Oral Roberts' defensive pressure no match for South Dakota State women in Summit tourney
The Jackrabbits will face Omaha for the conference championship on Tuesday.
SIOUX FALLS — Top-seeded South Dakota State moved one step closer to a return to the NCAA tournament, routing Oral Roberts 87-60 in Monday's Summit League tournament semifinals.
The Jackrabbits (27-5) extended their winning streak to a program-record 20, and will go for their 10th conference tournament title on Tuesday at 1 p.m. in the championship.
Oral Roberts was coming off a minor upset of South Dakota in Sunday's quarterfinals, a game in which the Golden Eagles caught the Coyotes by surprise with an aggressive full court press that forced 21 turnovers and energized an ORU team that had entered the tournament on a six-game losing streak. The Eagles seemed optimistic their new identity might give them a shot against the heavily favored Jackrabbits in the semis, but that did not happen.
The Jackrabbits had Sunday off, which meant they had a day to rest, and were able to watch the Eagles and prepare for what they saw.
"This was the first time in however many years I've been a coach that we had to have a press-break in after missed shots," said SDSU's Aaron Johnston. "I'm not trying to be sarcastic, that's honestly something we haven't spent a lot of time on — that just doesn't happen. So (Sunday), we were able to talk a little bit about some ideas within the game. We switched it a couple times to try and have a little better plan. I just think no team is used to you know, defending, getting a rebound, taking a couple dribbles and having two or three people run right at you. It doesn't happen a lot."
Indeed, the Eagles caused some problems early with their press. They forced six Jackrabbit turnovers in the first five minutes, but they started showing signs of fatigue early. SDSU just had to weather the storm.
"We knew they like to play with tempo and come with a lot of pressure," said point guard Paige Meyer. "So it was just finding that open player. There's gonna be someone open. You just have to find them."
Hannah Cooper had 14 points to lead the Eagles, who finish the year 12-19.
"Our energy just wasn't there like it was (against USD)," Cooper said. "We said that we would come out with a lot of energy, a lot of fight, and I don't think we did that, and I think that really hurt us. I think our legs were there. We just mentally weren't there."
The Jacks led by 14 at half and built the lead as high as 26 in the third. ORU got hot from 3 in the second half and cut the lead to 16, but it was back in the 20s minutes later. This was yet another dominant performance by a team that is executing at both ends of the floor at an extremely high level.
- The Jackrabbits had assists on 23 of their 26 made field goals.
- SDSU got to the line 32 times and made 27 of them (84 percent).
- Seniors Myah Selland and Paiton Burckhard are generally considered the Jacks' most important players, and they combined for a mere 13 points, and SDSU still finished with 87.
- Sophomore guard Haleigh Timmer had a career-high 25 points. When ORU cut a 26-point lead down to 16 in the third quarter, Timmer responded with eight straight points.
- The Jacks had a 48-29 rebounding edge. Meyer, a 5-foot-6 point guard, led the way with eight (to go with 11 points and five assists). Selland and Kallie Theisen had seven apiece and Timmer and Dru Gylten had six.
- The Jacks had a season-high 11 blocked shots, including a career-high six from Theisen.
- SDSU outscored ORU 34-14 in the paint and 20-4 on the break, while their bench outscored ORU's 24-14.
Now SDSU prepares for 6th-seeded Omaha. The Mavs are 15-16 and lost to SDSU by 33 in their last meeting. But the margin was only seven points when they played in Omaha in January. It's Omaha's second trip to the tournament title game in three years. They made it in 2021 when they upset top-seeded SDSU in the first round.
The Jacks, meanwhile, are looking for their first conference tournament title since 2019, the year they reached the Sweet 16.
"Falling short last year, I think we just kind of have a desire to (win the title)," Timmer said. "We're taking it one moment at a time and taking advantage of every opportunity."