USD women's basketball team vows to rebuild through toughness

The loss to Oral Roberts in Summit League tournament was the 16th time the Coyotes allowed 70 points or more this season.

The 2023 Summit League Basketball Championship
Oral Roberts' Ruthie Udoumoh drives to the basket around South Dakota's Cassidy Carson on Sunday, March 5, 2023 at the 2023 Summit League Basketball Championship at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Dave Eggen / Inertia

SIOUX FALLS -- The University of South Dakota women’s basketball team has built itself as a defensive stalwart program.

But the defense ended up being a clear deficiency in a season that ended Sunday with a 92-69 loss to Oral Roberts in the Summit League tournament quarterfinals at the Premier Center.

The national ranking (out of 350 teams) for USD’s defense in three key categories entering Sunday’s game was stark:

  • 281st in the country in 3-point defense, allowing 33% shooting to opponents;
  • 271st in the country in scoring defense, allowing 68.2 points per game;
  • 244th in the country in field goal defense, allowing opponents to shoot 41.4%. 

On Sunday, Oral Roberts shot nearly 50% overall and 40% from 3-point range, reversing its fortunes from a pair of blowout losses at the hands of the Coyotes during the regular season.
“It just came down to stops,” USD star sophomore Grace Larkins said. “We could score but when they came back and scored too, it really didn’t bring us anywhere.”

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The game was the 16th time that USD has allowed 70 points or more, and USD was 1-15 in those games. First-year head coach Kayla Karius, who coached as an assistant at one point under former coach Dawn Plitzuweit, said defense has to be a huge emphasis going forward.


“Defense is what made this program really successful,” Karius said. “Five years in a row of being the best defensive team in the league and (we) have won a lot of games because of it. It has been a real emphasis for us all year and it’s an area we need to grow in … if man-to-man defense is going to be our bread and butter, we’re going to have to get better at it.”

Last season, USD allowed opponents only 53.1 points per game and all of the red-clad USD faithful know this year’s team is different. The Coyotes saw 75% of its minutes from last year’s team go out the door when the Coyotes lost in the Sweet 16 to Michigan, and then with the ensuing transfer of Maddie Krull and Kyah Watson to Nebraska and West Virginia, respectively. The Coyotes had the nation's eighth-best scoring defense at 53.1 points per game, something tough to maintain as a mid-major.

This season, the Coyotes were young and inexperienced. Injuries have taken out key contributors, leaving only nine players in uniform on Sunday.

And in game No. 30 of the season, USD struggled to find the answers defensively they’ve wanted all season. Karius said the team needs to get tougher on defense and keep the opponents in front of them.

“I didn’t feel like we did that today,” Karius said. “It wasn’t much screening action or ball screening, it was just defending one-on-one and being in those gaps.”

The 2023 Summit League Basketball Championship
Oral Roberts' Hannah Cooper leaps for a layup with pressure from South Dakota's Walker Demers on Sunday, March 5, 2023 at the 2023 Summit League Basketball Championship at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Dave Eggen / Inertia

Karius said this season ends with defense as a prime concern, something she didn’t expect considering how much of the offense was leaving the team prior to the year.

“I think a lot more of my concerns early on was who was going to score,” she said. “I think we found a way to do that. Now it’s definitely turning more toward we need to find who is going to defend, having this culture of toughness and getting back to growing and getting better with our man-to-man defense.”

But there’s optimism ahead. Of the eight Coyotes to play on Sunday, only one is a senior, and USD still had the third-best scoring defense in the conference, behind only South Dakota State and St. Thomas.


“All season, it’s really been our theme, being overcomers,” Karius said. “They have just such a great mindset about them and we really just try to keep pushing on them that they’ve got to keep battling through whatever it is we’re dealing with.”

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