Fifth ‘final’ game in the DakotaDome sees Coyote women face off against Oregon in WNIT Final Four
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Fifth ‘final’ game in the DakotaDome sees Coyote women face off against Oregon in WNIT Final Four

The USD women’s basketball team is feeling the madness of March.

Wednesday night the Coyotes will be taking on the Oregon Ducks in Vermillion for a chance to go to the final game of the Women’s National Invitational Tournament.

The USD women are coming off of a Sunday night 68-54 win over Western Kentucky.

“(I’m) just really excited to be playing basketball this late in the season and late in the year,” said USD head coach Amy Williams.

It’s the Coyotes’ resilience to bounce back after not reaching the goal of a NCAA Tournament berth that has fueled this WNIT run, senior Nicole Seekamp said.

“When we didn’t win that championship game in Sioux Falls we knew that the next goal was to go all the way in the WNIT,” she said. “There’s no reason why we’d ever go out to a game and want to lose. We’re going to keep playing hard every game.”

The Ducks are 24-10 on the year and are coming off of a 71-67 win over UTEP, which saw Oregon come back from an 18 point deficit. Oregon has pushed through the WNIT to this point, with the UTEP game being the only game within five points.

The Coyotes and the Ducks have shared two opponents this season, Washington and North Dakota. The Coyotes lost to Washington, 64-77, while Oregon took them down 75-63. Both teams defeated North Dakota: Oregon won 77-51 and the Coyotes won 73-70.

One thing the Coyotes hope will separate the two teams is their home court advantage. USD is now playing their fifth “final game” in the DakotaDome and the crowds have been consistently showing up for the WNIT. The opening round matchup against Creighton saw 1,960 people in attendance. After a trip to Minneapolis, the game against Northern Iowa brought out 2,433 spectators and the last contest against Western Kentucky brought 2,749 fans to the Dome.

The crowd has helped create a true home court advantage for the Coyotes throughout the WNIT, and the Coyotes are grateful.

“(It’s) just an incredible crowd and it just fuels our fire. It just has certainly been fun and unique,” Williams said. “Giving everybody another opportunity to get in the Dome and cheer for basketball games and for us to experience that in front of our home fans has just been fun.”

The players have been able to pick up on the crowd’s energy as well.

“The crowd is awesome here, they always have been. I think they’ve really picked it up these last few games,” Seekamp said. “I think that’s a huge plus for us, especially at the end of the season. We’re getting tired so to have that crowd encouraging us is definitely a benefit.”

With the win over WKU, the Coyotes now have 30 wins on the season, an improvement Williams has made in her time at USD. In Williams’ first season the Coyotes finished with 19 wins. Since then she has seen subsequent records of 19, 26 and this year’s mark of 30.

“It’s been an incredible ride,” Williams said. “We’ve just been able to have a lot of success in the post season and I think that’s something that changes your program and the culture. It sets the tone for what the expectations are.”

Seekamp has been around to see this team grow as well. After sitting out as a redshirt for the 2011-2012 season, Seekamp has been a fixture in the starting lineup and a big factor in this team’s improvement.

“That’s kind of a first for us (WNIT Final Four), for South Dakota, so its definitely an exciting thing,” Seekamp said. “Coach said it was our 30th win. So from three years ago when we were only at 19 wins, to just see that transition over the years to see how good of a team we’ve become, I think it really shows how our family, tradition and culture.”

Despite the 30 wins and being able to play deep into the postseason, the Coyotes have had to deal with every team’s worst March enemy – fatigue.

“There’s clear, evident signs of us fighting through some things,” Williams said.

The winning streak is coming as no surprise to USD. The team has worked to create a culture in Vermillion, which is coming out during the Coyotes postseason run.

Jasmine Trimboli, a junior college transfer from Iowa Western, is nearly to the end of her first year in Vermillion. It’s being part of the Coyote community that drew Trimboli to South Dakota.

“The team and the coaches they really bring a good, family atmosphere,” Trimboli said. “The community in Vermillion (is) awesome and it’s just been an amazing experience here at South Dakota.”

The Coyotes will take on Oregon in the WNIT Final Four tonight at 7 p.m. in the DakotaDome. The victor will then take on the winner of the Michigan and Florida Gulf Coast game in the WNIT Championship on Saturday.

For senior guard Tia Hemiller, this week is the week to finish out her college basketball career with a bang.

“We’ve worked so hard to get to this point and we made it to the Final Four, so we might as well just finish it all out,” she said.