In their first post-season tournament berth since transitioning to Division I, the University of South Dakota women’s basketball team competed in the Women’s Basketball Invitational. After defeating the University of Idaho in the first round, the team fell to Cal State-Bakersfield in the second.
Head coach Ryun Williams said the team was selected to play in the tournament because of their strong showing throughout the season.
“We played well late and had good wins throughout the season,” he said. “We only lost one game at home, which is huge, so we got on the radar. Anytime you can get post-season opportunity it’s great. It was well-deserved by the players.”
Having the opportunity to change their ending was a great motivator for the team, Hegge said.
“It was really exciting,” she said. “We were really excited to get a second chance to finish on a good note.”
In the second round of the WBI, the team traveled to California to take on Cal State-Bakersfield Sunday night. The Coyotes’ luck ran out as they fell 90-64. Junior guard Annie Roche earned a career-high 23 points and Hegge followed with 17.
“It was a tough night for us against a really good team,” Williams said. “(Cal State) had a ton of energy. It was just one of those games. Bakersfield is a solid team. We battled — it just wasn’t in the cards.”
Before the Coyotes earned their trip to the WBI, they first competed in the Great West Conference Tournament. USD earned the number two seed as they finished the regular season on a six-game win streak. In the first round of the tournament, the Coyotes would have to face Houston Baptist, after defeating the Huskies the previous week.
Junior center Jodie Boss said the team felt well-prepared heading into the GWC tournament.
“Going into the game, we felt pretty confident,” Boss said. “We were ranked second and we had been playing together well the past couple games. We were all confident with our capabilities and what we could accomplish.”
It was a poor shooting night for the Coyotes as they shot just 25 percent from the field in the first half. The Huskies had a nine-point lead at halftime and USD was forced to come back from a 13-point deficit to have a chance at winning. The Coyotes were unable to fight back and HBU defeated USD 73-64, eliminating the Coyotes from the tournament. Hegge led the team with 17 points and 15 rebounds.
Williams said the team was surprised with the game’s turnout.
“We had a hard time guarding the dribble,” Williams said. “It was one of those worst nightmare games. Nothing went right for us. They made good plays and we struggled offensively. What happened was definitely unexpected.”
After defeating HBU at home, Hegge said the Huskies came out with intensity to get some revenge on the Coyotes.
“We just couldn’t get many stops, they really spread us out,” Hegge said. “They drove to the basket and were finishing shots. We couldn’t get the stops we needed to. We struggled mostly with defense, but our shots weren’t falling like we would have liked them to.”
Before heading to the conference tournament, the team finished its regular season on the road, first taking on Texas-Pan American and then HBU.
Against UTPA, the Coyotes gained control after being down early and didn’t relinquish their lead. The Broncs made some attempts to get back in the game, but USD went on multiple runs to push the lead back to double digits. The Coyotes won 64-57 as junior forward Amber Hegge led the team with 21 points and nine rebounds.
In their final regular season game against HBU, the teams battled back and forth during the first half, but the Coyotes dominated in the second to come out with a 66-48 victory over the Huskies. Freshman forward Stacia Robertson had the best game of her career as she recorded career highs in points and rebounds with 20 and 14, respectively.
In the first round of the WBI, the women hosted Idaho.
Boss said after losing in the first round of the GWC tournament, the Coyotes would have to come out a lot stronger in this one.
“We needed to focus on the things we’re good at,” Boss said. “We focused on being confident with the ball, having good ball movement and being confident to make shots.”
The game started slow, as neither team reached double digits until the 12-minute mark of the first half. The Coyotes fought back and took their first lead of the game seven minutes before halftime. The Coyotes had a 24-19 lead heading into the locker room.
Idaho cut the lead to four early in the second half, but USD pushed to a double-digit lead with nine minutes remaining in the game and never let it fall to single digits after that. The seventh seeded Coyotes eliminated the number two seed with a 62-47 victory. Hegge once again led the team with 16 points.
Williams said he was proud of his team’s performance in their first post-season tournament.
“It was a great win,” Williams said. “Post-season play — this is unchartered water for these kids. Making this transition and having a game at the Dome and winning it — that’s a big thing for us.”
The loss to Cal State ended USD’s season at 20-12. The team will graduate just one senior, Teresa Case.
“It was a very solid year. We have a lot to be proud of,” Williams said.
Reach reporter Cassie Bartlett at [email protected]