The South Dakota women's basketball team was one of the last teams in the nation to open its season, yet the Coyotes came out in mid-season form.
The Northern Arizona Lumberjacks visited Vermillion for only the second meeting ever between the teams. The Lumberjacks came in with a 2-1 record as well as an exhibition victory, and last year's Big Sky leading scorer, Amy Patton.
Despite facing a team with more experience in the young season, South Dakota jumped on the Lumberjacks early and often, recording a 73-56 victory Friday night at the DakotaDome in Vermillion.
The Coyotes scored on each of their first three possessions, while holding NAU to only two points. A minute and thirty seconds into the game, USD was ahead 8-2.
"We were anxious to get going," senior guard Annie Roche said. "We were the last women's team to open up their season."
The offensive explosion continued for the Yotes before the first timeout of the game. USD was ahead 15-6 with 15 minutes left in the first half. In this stretch the Coyotes were 3-3 from the three point line, and preseason Summit League second team All-Conference selection Amber Hegge had nine of those 15 points.
"We were excited to start our year," said the Crofton, Neb., native, who scored 30 points in the game. "We finally got to play on our new court and shoot on the new court."
And shooting was exactly what Hegge and the Coyotes did. USD ended the game 10-18 from the three point line for 56 percent, and ended the game at 53 percent from the field.
The whole game was not a breeze though. After the hot start by the Yotes, Northern Arizona made their way back into the game. At halftime USD held a nine point lead in a fast paced half, 43-34.
"This was a great opening game for us in a lot of ways," USD head coach Ryun Williams said. "Even though we are an experienced team, it was still our first game. One thing we were concerned with was this was their fourth or fifth game of the year, and it was our first.
"I was afraid that there would be some rust since it was the first game of the year," Williams continued. "After that quick start some of that rust showed. We got tired and sloppy and let them hang around. We made some poor decisions and took some quick shots."
A big emphasis before the game was knowing the Lumberjack's personnel and forcing them away from their tendencies. Against Patton the strategy was working, but the Coyotes lacked the concentration in some other areas.
"The anxiety got to us, we had defensive breakdowns in the first half, and were guarding their posts 25 feet away from the basket," Williams said. "There were also a lot of mistakes that got exposed and turned into points. There was about 23 points that Northern Arizona scored in the first half off of second chance points and turnovers."
In the second half the rust had been knocked off and the Coyotes came out and played a more meticulous game.
To start the half the score in the first four minutes of the second half was only four points for USD and 3 for NAU. This was the point where the experience of USD, who returns all five starters from last year's 20-12 team, began to show.
"Having players that have played in that situation before helped," Roche said. "We played with more poise in the second half."
After the slow start in the second half the Yotes went on an 11-0 run and brought their lead to 17 with 11 minutes left in the half. South Dakota was able to convert on the sustained possessions, while Northern Arizona was not.
Throughout the rest of the second half the Coyotes were able to keep the lead around 15 points the entire time. With around six minutes left, Roche found a hot streak and poured in seven points in a manner of minutes, upping her scoring to 18 points on the night.
With just over two minutes left, Hegge hit two free throws to extend the lead to 21, and end her night at 30 points. NAU's star, Patton, was held to only 11 points on 5-14 shooting.
"We improved in the second half in getting to the right spot," Williams said. "The lane became more congested and our players were in better help position."
Hegge looked forward to their next game at Creighton on Tuesday.
"Winning helps, but we have the mentality of 'next game' right now," Hegge said. "We have to play better offensively and defensively next game."
Junior guard Alexis Yackley set a career high in assists as she totaled 12 on the night.
"We want a very tough presence from our point guard, and Alexis did just that," Williams said.
In addition to Hegge's 30 points and Roche's 18, Tempestt Wilson ended with 13 points, going a perfect 3-3 from the three point line. Jodie Boss had 10 rebounds, and Hegge ended with eight rebounds.