Thursday night, No. 23 USD knocked off the only team to defeat them in conference play through the last two years, beating Denver 73-58 in the Sanford Coyote Sports Center.
The Coyotes (24-3 overall, 12-1 in conference) extended their winning streak to 11 games, and remain unbeaten inside the Sanford Coyote Sports Center this year. USD’s leading scorer, junior Ciara Duffy, finished with 16 points, five rebounds and five assists.
The first quarter ended in a 15-15 tie. No Coyote scored more than one basket in the quarter. Sophomore Monica Arens opened the second quarter ablaze as she knocked down three 3-pointers, starting a perfect 4-of-4 from three.
“I thought Monica Arens gave us some really good minutes in the second quarter,” head coach Dawn Plitzuweit said. “She hit shots, and they (Denver) were trying to take away things in the lane and she did a really good job spacing the floor and hitting shots for us.”
Senior Allison Arens, sophomore Chloe Lamb and sophomore Liv Korngable found foul trouble in the second quarter, all getting multiple foul calls early in the game. At the half, the Coyotes held an eight-point lead.
Sophomore Hannah Sjerven took over the third quarter underneath the basket. She tallied seven points, going a perfect 3-for-3 from the field and 1-for-1 at the free throw line. Ciara Duffy drained three 3-pointers in the quarter to boost the Coyotes from the outside. Midway through a third-quarter run, Allison Arens drove to the basket and converted a lay-in that moved her into tenth all-time on the USD scoring list with 1,303 points for her career.
The largest USD lead was 19 points late in the fourth quarter. Sjerven contributed 11 points and nine rebounds off the bench. Monica Arens added 12 more points off the bench. The Summit League-leading Coyote defense showed its ability again. After allowing Denver to shoot over 60 percent in the January loss in Colorado, they held the Pioneers to 37.9 percent shooting from the floor and 28 percent from beyond the arc.
“The Summit League is a very difficult league to be a good defensive team in because teams can really shoot it and space the floor,” Plitzuweit said. “It certainly is a challenge because it’s hard to do everything. It’s hard to take everything away because the arc shooters are able to get to the rim or to the free throw line at that point in time. I think Denver really tried to attack us inside during stretches of the second half.”
“The first time we played them (Denver), they shot lights out, so that was one key area we had to focus on,” Monica Arens said. “We had to make sure we were out on shooters and they set a lot of ball screens, so we made sure to stay tight to their rollers and took away that action.”
Up next for USD is a showdown for the top spot in the Summit League. South Dakota State and USD are tied for first in the conference at 12-1 with three games left in the regular season. The first meeting between the two went the Coyotes’ way, as they knocked off the Jackrabbits 105-98 in double overtime.
“It’s a really fun game, rivalry games always are, especially when it’s towards the end of the conference season there is a lot riding on it and it’s going to be a packed arena,” Duffy said. “I think just trying to treat it like any other game, going through the scouting report, focusing on what we can do on the defensive end and what we can do on the offensive end, trusting everything we have done this season and all of the work we have already put in.”
Sunday’s matchup has been named a “must-see” matchup for any basketball fan by ESPN. Tip-off is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Frost Arena in Brookings, S.D.