Inside the University of South Dakota men’s track locker room doubled as a conference room, USD seniors Annie Roche and Amber Hegge sat in front of the media Monday night wearing an the unmistakable mask of disappointment.
“It has been a great season, a lot of fun, but just not very much fun right now,” Hegge said.
With a trip to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament championship a mere three wins away, the chance the University of South Dakota women’s basketball have dreamt of all season long was seemingly within their grasp.
After snagging their second post-season victory in two years with a comeback win over Drake University in the first-round of the WNIT, the next obstacle standing in their way was Pac-12 foe Colorado.
Hegge quickly got the ball rolling during Monday night’s second-round game against the Buffaloes after her three-point play gave the Coyotes a swift 3-0.
The Coyotes’ three-point lead to begin the game would be their last.
Led by Chucky Jeffery’s 23 points and dominant play on either side of the ball, the Buffaloes overcame a rowdy DakotaDome crowd, inevitably ending USD’s hopes of a WNIT championship by a score of 64-55.
“They were a very good team,” head coach Ryun Williams said. “We saw next level athleticism and length, and that was disruptive. Our kids fought through the adversity, but it is hard to establish a decent tempo against a team like that. Every time they needed a basket there was (Jeffery), or every time they needed a rebound they would get one.”
The Buffaloes displayed their superior size and athleticism on both offensive and defensive sides of the ball in Monday night’s match-up, out rebounding the Coyotes 47-25.
Colorado also managed to grab 19 offensive rebounds, opposed to just three for the Coyotes.
“Conversions were very hard for us,” Hegge said. “They were long, and that made it hard to keep them off the boards.”
Hegge led the Coyotes with 20 points and seven rebounds in the final game of her illustrious collegiate career, while Roche and Williams added another 14 and 12 points, respectively.
Colorado extended their lead to as many as 13 during the second half, a margin, the Coyotes very nearly erased in the final five minutes.
Two free-throws by junior guard Tempest Williams brought the Coyotes within five with :50 seconds remaining, however a Coyote turnover leading to a run of free throws by the Buffaloes silenced the 1,569 hopeful cheers inside the DakotaDome.
“Our fans did an awesome job supporting us tonight,” senior guard Annie Roche said. “We would just get a little back into it and they would be right there with us. It was great having that fans out there tonight.”
Monday night’s loss snaps the Coyotes’ five game winning streak dating back to the regular season, and is only their second loss since Jan. 21.
“It was a blast,” Williams said. “It was just fun to be a part of that ride. These girls took our staff on a fun journey, it didn’t end great tonight but they have a lot to be proud of.”
In the teams inaugural Division I season, the Coyotes ended the year on a 13-2 run, on their way to a 23-8 overall record.
An overtime win at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. on Nov. 22, 2011 jump started the Coyotes regular season only to drop four of six to begin conference play.
The team did not stay down long, after a 51-59 to South Dakota State on Feb. 16, the Coyotes went on an eight game winning streak that included wins over Oral Roberts, North Dakota State and SDSU.
“This year, to me, was Coyote basketball,” Williams said. “It was tough, determined, together and just a lot of fun. The girls were classy off the floor and were great students, that is Yote basketball and it is something we want to follow up and continue to do each season.”
A large portion of the Coyotes success during the 2011-12 season has been credited to their outstanding defensive efforts, efforts that have been on display both on the court and on paper.
Over the course of 31 games, the Coyotes allowed just 52.7 points per game while boasting a field-goal defense percentage of 33.8 percent and 7.3 blocks per game.
Senior Jodie Boss led the team’s defensive charge with her 4.0 blocks per game, a statistic that if eligible for national rankings would have placed second in the country only behind Baylor’s Brittney Griner who averaged 5.1 blocks per game.
Monday night marked not only the end of a historical season for USD women’s basketball, but also the collegiate career of one historical Coyote.
“I am really glad my daughters got to watch (Hegge) play basketball,” Williams said.