In 2018, the South Dakota women’s basketball team went 14-0 in conference play, made it to the Summit League Championship, and were 40 minutes away from making it to NCAA Tournament. The only team that stood in the way of a bid was their rival up north, South Dakota State.
The Jackrabbits, led by the 2017-18 and 2018-19 Summit League Player of the Year Macy Miller, beat the Coyotes 65-50. They stole the bid from the regular season champion Coyotes and lost to Villanova in the opening round. USD made it to the quarterfinal of the Women’s National Invitational Tournament (WNIT), and after wins over Houston, Colorado State and Michigan State, lost to Texas Christian University (TCU) 79-71.
This year, the Coyotes faced the “toughest non-conference schedule” in school history, according to head Coach Dawn Plitzuwiet. They overcame the challenge with their first win over a ranked AP Top 25 team against No. 23 Iowa State on Nov. 28, and then again at No. 22 Missouri on Dec. 15.
After beating North Dakota State to open the conference season, USD lost at Denver, 104-99. Three days later, the Coyotes played the first of two all-time great games this season against SDSU, taking the meeting 105-98 in double overtime in front of a sold-out crowd at the Sanford Coyote Sports Center.
The Coyotes cruised through conference play after that, with minor hiccups and scares along the way, but no losses. Both USD and SDSU had one loss in conference play when the two met for the second time on Feb. 24 in Frost Arena. Another overtime game between the two, and another victory for the home team. SDSU prevailed 82-78. Both teams finished the season with wins and claimed the top two seeds in the Summit League Tournament.
The tournament placed SDSU and USD on opposite sides of the bracket, setting up a potential collision between the two in the conference championship Tuesday, March 12.
For the Coyotes, they claimed the two-seed and play the seventh-seeded North Dakota State Saturday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. at the Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls, S.D. USD swept NDSU in the regular season, winning by 26 and 19 in each game.
Michelle Gaislerova leads the Bison with 14.8 points per game. She is the lone player averaging over 10 points per game for NDSU.
First-team All-Summit selections Allison Arens and Ciara Duffy lead the Coyotes into the tournament. Duffy leads the team at 15.2 points per game and 5.0 rebounds. Arens is the ultimate utility player, averaging 11.2 points 5.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. She leads the team in steals, and is the Summit League Defensive Player of the Year.
Redshirt-Sophomore Hannah Sjerven is the Summit League’s Transfer of the Year and Sixth Woman of the Year. She averages 11.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game and is the only player on the team averaging more than one block per game, leading all of the Summit League in blocks.
Juniors Madison McKeever and Taylor Frederick, along with Sophomores Chloe Lamb and Monica Arens, play vital roles for the Coyotes. As of late, Sophomore Liv Korngable has started to play more minutes and contribute more on both sides of the ball. Depth might be the biggest attribute for the Coyotes. There are eight players who can step up on any night and be the star for this team.
In other first-round games, SDSU takes on Purdue-Fort Wayne Saturday at noon. Sunday’s games are Western Illinois against Oral Roberts at noon and North Dakota against Denver Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Winners of SDSU-PFW and WIU-ORU will play each other Monday at noon. Winners of USD-NDSU and DU-UND play Monday at 2:30 p.m. The Championship is set for 1 p.m. Tuesday afternoon. All games will be aired on Midco Sports Network/ESPN+, except the championship game, which will be aired on ESPNU.
Many women’s college basketball analysts believe that regardless of outcome, both USD and SDSU will be in the NCAA tournament this year. That doesn’t mean anything to these teams right now, as both of them would rather seal their fate with a conference championship.
As long as there are no upsets, ACT III of this seasons’ USD-SDSU rivalry may take place Tuesday afternoon, where the Coyotes would get the chance to do what the Jacks did to them last year: take the Conference title and the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.