By Chris Riley
For the second day in a row on Monday, March 11, the University of South Dakota women used a powerful second-half surge to take the lead and pull away for a Summit League Tournament victory. It was an 82-72 semifinal victory over IUPUI at the Sioux Falls Arena this time, propelling the Coyotes into an instant-classic clash with SDSU for the league title.
“This is what we’ve waited for and what the entire state has – an USD/SDSU matchup,” Coyotes’ senior and Onida native Alexis Yackley said. “We are really excited that we can be the first ones to give the state of South Dakota this matchup.”
But first, USD had to beat a talented Jaguars squad (20-11) for the third time this season, and for the first 27 minutes, IUPUI gave the Coyotes all that they could handle.
The Jaguars held USD to just 18 field-goal attempts and a 33 percent shooting percentage in the first half on the way to a 31-18 halftime lead.
“I thought that in the first half we stuck to our game plan and did what we needed to do,” IUPUI coach Austin Parkinson said. “We talked about getting back in transition and boxing out. We did those things.”
After a frustrating start to the second half that saw the Jaguars claim a 44-39 lead with 13:44 left to play, USD sophomore Nicole Seekamp sparked her teammates to a second-half comeback for the second day in a row.
“I think the whole team contributed in some way and I just fed off that and I fed off the crowd and made shots,” Seekamp, who scored 23 of her 27 points in the second half, said. “I wasn’t really thinking about it, and if you don’t think about it and shoot it, it usually goes in.”
It was an 18-0 second-half run against NDSU on Sunday, and Monday, USD began a 27-11 run with 13 minutes left to play that took over eight minutes off the clock.
“Nicole Seekamp is a heck of a player and made some really tough shots and obviously made it difficult for us to win,” Parkinson added.
Leading 66-55 after that run with five minutes to play, the Coyotes handled IUPUI’s defensive pressure down the stretch and never let their lead slide to less than eight points.
“I certainly don’t feel like we have put it together for 40 minutes but in spurts we look pretty good,” USD head coach Amy Williams said. “We’ve had a couple of good second halves in this tournament.”
The Coyotes shot 77 percent from the field in the second half, including 4-for-4 from long range. USD also converted 23 of 27 free-throw attempts and out-rebounded the Jaguars 33-26.
Tempestt Wilson (14 points), Polly Harrington (11 points) and Lisa Loeffler (10 points) all joined Seekamp in double figures. Freshman Margaret McCloud added seven points and a team-high six rebounds off the bench while senior Sam Mehr stepped up off the bench in a big way for the second day in a row, scoring nine points on 3-for-5 three-point shooting.
“We are not a one-man show,” Williams added. “We had four people in double figures and lots of people contributing. I am thrilled to death and just so proud of this team.”
Jaguars’ senior Kerah Nelson had a huge game for IUPUI, putting up 32 points and grabbing six boards in the loss.
“I think our team gave it all we had,” Nelson said. “(USD) has given us problems throughout the season. We played as hard as we could but they just made a lot of big shots.”
Up next for the Coyotes is a rematch with rival SDSU for the Summit League crown and a ticket to the big dance – the NCAA Division I Tournament.
The last time SDSU and USD faced each other with this much at stake it was the 2002-03 regional final, with an Elite-Eight berth on the line, which SDSU won in Brookings on their way to a 32-3 overall record and the Division II national title.
These players weren’t even in high school yet at that time though, and they will be eager to add to the storied history of the USD/SDSU rivalry.
“I have a ton of respect for (SDSU coach) Aaron Johnston and what he’s been able to build there,” Williams said. We feel excited to be in this championship and in a position to be able to get another crack at them. Look for it to be a very physical, aggressive game between two teams that really want to battle it out.”
You can follow Chris Riley on Twitter at twitter.com/ChrisCRiley.