It all came down to a final possession Thursday night in the DakotaDome.
With the seconds ticking down, the University of Northern Iowa brought down the ball after a Coyote miss. The Coyote defense smothered Panther senior Amber Sorenson who was forced to throw up a one handed shot that failed to reach the rim, giving USD a 51-50 victory and advancing them to the WNIT Elite Eight.
“As a student I was jumping up, holding my head wondering what was going to happen,” said Coyote student Tyler Stoll. “The ‘Yotes pulled it out and the hair is still on my head so I can’t complain.”
Stoll, a junior and a men’s basketball manager, was just one of the boisterous crowd of 2,133 who helped to keep the DakotaDome loud throughout the night.
Stoll, who attended the Coyote women’s games at the Summit League Tournament, noted how well the team has come together in the WNIT.
“I think they are handling the adversity a lot better than most people thought they would,” Stoll said. “It’s not the NCAA Tournament but it’s the next best thing. This group of girls is a really special group, which is really cool to watch as a student. Seeing the chemistry the girls have and the crowd getting up today, it just opens your eyes at how USD athletics is changing.”
It was, by no means, an easy game for USD. The Coyote women had to overcome a cold shooting night to defeat the Panthers.
The Coyotes shot just eight percent from three point range and were 0-8 from deep in the second half. UNI fared just a bit better, shooting 13 percent from deep. The low shooting percentages contributed to the low score and defense ruled the contest. USD shot just 33 percent from the floor while the Panthers shot 40 percent.
After the game Coyote head coach Amy Williams noted the grit the Coyotes put into their defense.
“If you would have told me before the basketball game that we were going to shoot 33 percent from the floor and seven percent from the three point line, I would not have liked our chances very well,” Williams said. “We found a way to be gritty.”
Senior Nicole Seekamp was the x-factor for the Coyotes. Last time out against UNI Seekamp didn’t play and the Panthers took down the Coyotes 64-43. She proved the difference Thursday night, scoring 16 points, dishing six assists and grabbing four rebounds.
Fellow senior Kelly Stewart scored seven and grabbed six rebounds. The Coyotes were also forced to play without a normal starter. Junior Caitlin Duffy sprained her ankle earlier this week in practice and was unable to play.
For the Panthers senior Jen Keitel led the way. Keitel scored a game high 19 points and pulled down six rebounds. She blocked three shots. Senior Stephanie Davidson also came up big with 13 points.
Seekamp said it was hard to stop Keitel from scoring.
“She can kind of do a bit of everything,” Seekamp said. “She can work down low, shoot threes and that mid-range game is really good.”
After a strong regular season that ended in the Coyotes not making it to the NCAA Tournament, players used the loss to help fuel their WNIT run. Stewart actually wrote an article on why USD and other mid majors deserve more of a look for at large bids.
“You can’t just throw in the towel after something like that you can’t just be mad that oh woe is me we didn’t make the tournament,” Stewart said. “Like coach Williams said in our huddle before practice, we had the goal to make the tournament and now the goal has shifted. This is the cards we have right now, we have to play them.”
The Coyotes will take on the winner of the Saint Louis and Western Kentucky game. The winner of that game will travel to Vermillion to take on the Coyotes Sunday night at 7 p.m
This game will mark the Coyote’s fourth “final game” in the DakotaDome.
“It’s our fourth opportunity to have a last game in the Dome,” Williams said. “Nicole said in the locker room when I told the team that the Dome just does not want to let go of us and Kelly thought the arena should be ready by now with all these extra games.”