By Chris Riley
SIOUX FALLS — When Sioux Falls landed the Summit League Championships a handful of years ago, the hope was that someday South Dakota’s local talent and teams would be on display in the college game’s biggest state. Mission accomplished, as USD and SDSU played down to the wire in a wildly entertaining women’s final before a Summit League women’s championship attendance record 6,153 fans at the Sioux Falls arena on Tuesday afternoon in a nationally televised game.
A new chapter was added to the schools’ storied rivalry as the Jackrabbits overcame a late deficit to claim a 56-53 victory and the automatic NCAA Tournament berth that comes with it.
“It wasn’t a game where things came easy to either team,” SDSU head coach Aaron Johnston said. “To have the fans from both sides makes for an emotional game. It’s one people will remember for a long time.”
Trailing 46-41 with 8:57 left in the contest after a pair of Tempestt Wilson free throws, the Jackrabbits went on a 15-7 run to close the game, their 15th straight Summit League Tournament victory — extending their Summit League record.
SDSU senior Ashley Eide, a first-team All-Summit League selection, scored eight of her 10 points during that final nine-minute stretch after struggling for most of the game with foul trouble.
Megan Waytashek led the Jackrabbits with 11 points and seven rebounds, as the sophomore aided a 19-for-23 effort from the free-throw line for SDSU. Senior Katie Lingle grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds and added eight points.
In order to win the championship, all of us had to gut it out,” Lingle said. “They (USD) played really tough.”
The Coyotes came out strong, going up by as many as nine points in the first-half before taking a 32-28 lead into the locker room.
“We feel really disappointed to have let this one slip away,” USD coach Amy Williams said. “I could not be more proud of my team — they fought and executed our game plan, played tremendous defense and played excellent on the boards. We just put (SDSU) on the foul line a little too much in the second half.
Coyotes’ sophomore Nicole Seekamp, named tourney MVP, had 17 points at the break but scored just three in the final 20 minutes as SDUS’s defensive pressure held the Coyotes to only 21 second-half points.
“We knew coming into the game that we couldn’t get down in the first half like we did in the first two games,” Seekamp said. “We just weren’t as good in the second half as the last two games.”
USD, 17-15, still had a chance to tie, down three with five seconds left and Alexis Yackley at the foul line with a one-and-one. The senior missed her first shot but somehow managed to come up with the offensive rebound and moved behind the arc for one last shot that looked good but hit off the rim.
“I thought it was in,” the former Sully Buttes standout said of her final shot.
As a South Dakota native, Yackley was able to put Tuesdays contest into perspective.
“It’s great for our state,” Yackley said. “It was like a boxing match the entire game. Unfortunately, time just ran out for us.”
In addition to Seekamp’s 20 points and six rebounds, the Coyotes got 10 points from Tempestt Wilson and six points and eight rebounds from Polly Harrington. Lisa Loeffler grabbed nine boards while Yackley added seven rebounds and a team-leading six assists.
The Jackrabbits, 25-7 with the win, continue on to their fifth consecutive NCAA National Tournament.
“It feels just like the first time, probably better,” Lingle said of the Jackrabbits moving on to the national tourney. “To get a win against such a solid team and with the rivalry — it has been such an incredible experience.”
The loss does not necessarily mean that USD’s season is over, as the Coyotes still have a chance at a repeat WNIT or possible WBI bid.
In addition to Seekamp being named tournament MVP — the first time since 2004 that the MVP was not from the winning team, the Coyotes placed Wilson on the All-Tournament team while Eide and Gabrielle Boever were selected from SDSU. IUPUI’s Keerah Nelson rounded out the All-Tournament five.
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