After almost two full seasons of frustration, the University of South Dakota women’s basketball team have conquered their biggest rival.
Not shy of the dramatic, the Coyotes sent South Dakota State packing and propelled themselves one step closer to their first NCAA national tournament with the semifinal win.
The 72-58 victory against the five-time league champs also ended a five-game USD losing streak to the Jackrabbits.
“Really excited to get this win and be back in the champ game tomorrow, we played one of our best defensive games of the season,” coach Amy Williams said. “There was a couple minutes left in the game and I told our staff this will be the longest minutes of my life. We had great energy, we showed a lot of grit.”
More importantly, it was another win for USD senior Polly Harrington, who players said they were playing for the last month of the season.
“I wanted to do this for Polly,” first-year Bridget Arens, who tied her season high in the game, said. “We saw our boys go down, and I didn’t want that.”
And it was Harrington who showed up most for her team Monday. The senior finished with 18 points, nine rebounds. She also contributed six offensive boards to a dominant 16-12 offensive rebound margin in favor of the Coyotes.
“We rebounded today,” Harrington said. “We went after every rebound we could and went after every ball. That made the difference. They didn’t get a lot of the stuff they got in the last games today.”
A 99-88 loss a week ago at the Coyotes home court, the USD women led the entire game. The team went down low to their senior the first two possessions and never looked back.
“Before the game started, I told the leaders to leave it all on the court, and it showed on the court,” Harrington said. “Our team does a good job keep our emotion in tact.”
The Coyotes had every response to SDSU and their crowd. When SDSU’s large fan base roared through the arena, tbe Coyotes answered with effort and scoring runs.
The Coyotes’ largest lead of 23 was cut to 11 late in the second half.
But USD kept control of the game, converting 29-34 from the free throw line.
When SDSU seemed to have one last shot at a comeback, USD closed the door with a couple late turnovers. Bridget Arens, who tied her season high with 12 points, cashed a jumper from the corner with three minutes left.
“Our teammates stayed calm, and it was big point not to get on our toes and play smart,” sophomore guard Tia Hemiller said. “Our coaches and our leader Polly kept our heads in it.”
The win comes a day after a dramatic three by Raeshel Contreras with 1.1 seconds left on the game clock beat Western Illinois. USD slid by Western, and now picks up one of their biggest wins in coach Amy Williams’ two-year tenure as head coach.
Williams will coach in her second consecutive Summit League championship game, and this time, it won’t be rival SDSU on the other bench.
“This is a great win for our program, but we are going to have to fight hard and claw,” Williams said. “This win means nothing if we don’t continue to take care of business tomorrow. We want to be champions. Up to this point SDSU has been that, they’ve raised that bar and that pushes us to raise the bar as well.”
USD tips off Tuesday against the winner of IUPUI or Denver at 1 p.m. from the Sioux Falls Arena.