Coyotes, Gophers Battle Sunday in WNIT Second Round Game
There's little argument that the current senior class on the University of South Dakota women's basketball roster has been the most significant group top ever wear a Coyotes uniform.
In four years, they've won 67 percent of their games, a pair of Summit League League regular season titles, advanced to four straight Summit League Tournament Championship games (winning one), and made an NCAA Tournament appearance, all while winning an average of 23 games a year.
So it's no surprise that as USD tries to extend this season with a run in the WNIT, it's those players in their final season that are leading the charge.
In their round one game against Creighton, South Dakota got inspired second half play from a trio of those seniors - Tia Hemiller, Nicole Seekamp, and Kelly Stewart - as the Coyotes rallied to beat the Bluejays, 74-68.
Trailing by three at halftime after shooting just 30 percent in the first twenty minutes, USD responded with torrid 54 percent shooting in the second half, keyed by a Hemiller basket, steal, and assist to Seekamp, which kickstarted a 16-3 run to put the Coyotes up ten. Eleven of Seekamp's 15 points came after intermission.
When Creighton rallied to tie the game late, it was Stewart, as she's done so many times this season, knocking down back-to-back three-pointers to help seal USD's 17th win in their last 18 games.
The Coyotes (27-6) second challenge in the WNIT could prove to be their toughest defensive task of the season - shutting down Minnesota's prolific scorer Rachel Banham.
The redshirt senior had a record-setting night in the Gophers opening round win against Milwaukee. Banham scored 48 points on 18-of-33 shooting (55%) from the floor (including a trio of three-pointers) and 9-of-10 shooting from the free throw line. The 48 points are a WNIT single game record and the most points ever scored by a player (man or woman) at Williams Arena. It's the third time Banham has topped 40 in a game this season. She scored 60 in a double overtime win earlier this year.
Banham is the Big Ten Player of the Year. She's tops in the nation in made field goals, is second in scoring (28 points per game), third in three-pointers made and fourth in three-pointers attempted. She's not the only scorer on the team though, Carlie Wagner is seventh in the Big Ten in scoring (19 points per game).
As a team, Minnesota (20-11) led the Big Ten in scoring this season (84 points per game and has the fifth best offense in the nation. The Gophers are in the top 10 nationally with nine made three-pointers per game. They rank in the top 30 in assist-to-turnover ratio, free throw accuracy, rebounding, and fewest turnovers.
Minnesota isn't the only team capable of putting up big numbers in this game. The Coyotes led the Summit League in scoring (79 points per game), as well as field goal and three-point shooting accuracy. They also topped the conference in assists, steals, and offensive rebounding.
Tipoff in 2:00 PM, Sunday, at Williams Arena in Minneapolis. The winner plays either Northern Iowa or Drake in round three.
I talked with South Dakota head coach Amy Williams about the Creighton win and the match-up with Minnesota: