South Dakota State women clinch Summit League regular season title as Jackrabbits race past Coyotes
SDSU defeated USD soundly for the second time inside a month, securing an outright conference championship with four games left to play.
VERMILLION — Efficient offense, shutdown defense and a rivalry blowout win for the South Dakota State women’s basketball team.
Drawing on a similar successful blueprint from January’s resounding victory, SDSU once again thumped rival South Dakota, 79-48, in front of an announced crowd of 3,025 on Saturday afternoon inside the Sanford Coyote Sports Center.
It didn’t possess quite the same “Wow!” factor as last month’s 118-59 thrashing the Jackrabbits put on the Coyotes in Brookings, but the message remained crystal clear as SDSU secured an outright conference championship with four games still remaining.
This season, it’s the Jackrabbits and then everyone else.
“We don’t ever take it for granted. Winning that championship means you’ve had to do a lot of things right over a long period of time,” said SDSU head coach Aaron Johnston. “It’s something we’ll celebrate and enjoy, but it won’t change how we go forward.”
As the final score hints at, the outcome was hardly in doubt for much of the afternoon. USD’s Cassidy Carson knocked in a 3-pointer to open the scoring, but the Jacks answered moments later with a triple from Paige Meyer, who made her first start of the season Saturday, that kick-started a 10-0 push to take early control. By the end of the first quarter, it was 24-7 Jackrabbits.
The situation only became more dire for USD in the second quarter. Defensively, the Coyotes were able to limit SDSU to 11 points in the frame. But a Macy Guebert layup at the 3:15 mark of the frame snapped what was a 7:41 scoreless drought for USD and ended up as the lone points of the quarter for the home team as SDSU opened up a 35-9 lead.
“Any time that happens, there are probably some missed shots that certainly could have gone in, but so many possessions went so deep into the shot clock and they had to work really hard to get the looks they did,” Johnston said of the defensive effort. “Our defense was disruptive, solid, we weren’t fouling and bailing them out … we were just really locked in. That’s a big part of why we were playing so well and certainly set the tone.”
It wasn’t until 1:52 remained in the third quarter that a Coyote other than Grace Larkins was able to connect on their second made shot of the afternoon, as an 8-0 SDSU spurt to start the second half led to a 57-25 score line after three quarters.
Meanwhile, the Jackrabbits were busy getting everyone involved, with 11 of the 13 players to see the court making their way into the scorebook.
“We had extra time to prepare this last week and focused on getting certain looks (offensively) and then we got those looks in the game,” explained sophomore guard Haleigh Timmer, who finished with 12 points, four rebounds and four assists.
Paige Meyer led the Jackrabbits with 14 points to go with three rebounds and two assists, while Brooklyn Meyer added 12 points and five boards off the bench. Paiton Burckhard chipped in 10 points, five rebounds and three assists alongside Myah Selland’s nine points and eight boards and Kallie Theisen’s six points, nine rebounds and four assists.
As a team, the Jackrabbits shot 31 of 61 (50.8%) from the field, assisting on 21 of the 31 made shots.
“Our balance is really hard for teams to stop,” Johnston said. “… There are a lot of people who can score and are unselfish. You just don’t see the ball get stuck. That makes it hard for teams to guard us and leads to that efficiency.”
According to USD head coach Kayla Karius, there was progress made defensively from the first meeting to the second, particularly in defending the perimeter, but the Coyotes were unable to handle the Jackrabbits assault on the interior.
“We were certainly more sound (defensively compared to the first meeting), contested the 3-point line a lot better,” Karius said. “But I felt they were really pounding it inside and that was a struggle.”
SDSU outscored USD in the paint, 44-20, as the Coyotes finished 16 of 54 (29.6%) but were 3 of 25 (12%) in the first half. Larkins had a game-high 15 points and team-highs with seven rebounds and four assists, as Carley Duffney and Alexi Hempe contributed seven points apiece. Duffney added six rebounds and three assists.
Another sound defeat to their rivals resulted in a “disappointed locker room,” according to Karius, but the first-year head coach was quick to point out a positive take away from both experiences.
“When you play tough, physical teams, they teach you how to get to that next level,” Karius said. “We have got to take how (SDSU) played and learn what it’s going to take to be that team.
“There’s basketball left to be played. By no means does this define our season. We have to grow and I think the one thing our team has shown is a great attitude for wanting to get better,” she continued. “… We didn’t see that fight for 40 minutes today, but I do think we’ll find a way to keep getting better.”
Though the circumstances for each program are different as of Saturday afternoon, the message was similar in the Jackrabbits’ locker room.
“We’re definitely happy with what we’ve done so far,” Timmer said. “But we need to keep the pressure on and keep competing and finish out strong.”
SDSU (21-5, 14-0 Summit) wraps up its home slate by hosting Denver on Feb. 16 and Omaha on Feb. 18, while USD (11-14, 7-7 Summit) hosts the same programs but in reverse order.