NCAA Tournament Preview: South Dakota State University Jackrabbits at Oregon State Beavers
You would think that a team making its sixth trip to the NCAA Women's Tournament in seven years would have seen just about everything at this point, but not so for South Dakota State.
For the first time, the Jackrabbits will open the tourney with a team from the Pac 12, when SDSU plays at Oregon State, Friday, March 20, 2015, at 4:00 PM, in Corvallis, Oregon. The Jacks (24-8) are the number 14 seed in the Spokane Region, the Beavers (26-4) are the number three seed.
South Dakota State won the Summit League Tournament last week, beating regular season champ South Dakota in the title game. The Jackrabbits are third in the nation in free throw percentage, and in the top 25 in rebounding margin and three-point shooting. SDSU is led by senior Megan Waytashek and freshman Macy Miller, who each averaged 14 points a game in conference play this season.
But, Jackrabbits head coach Aaron Johnston says it will on the defensive end that his team will be severely tested by a very talented OSU team:
This South Dakota State program is built to play in the post season, and has arrived there again, even though three freshman (Macy Miller, Ellie Thompson, Lexi Alexander) and three sophomores (Chynna Stevens, Kerri Young, Clarissa Ober) will be making their NCAA Tournament debuts. All six averaged more than 15 minutes per game for the Jackrabbits this season. Miller and Young started all 32 games. Coach Johnston says his younger players are up to the task of playing in what is sure to be a hostile environment:
Friday's game will be played at Gill Coliseum, Oregon State's home court. The Beavers are the Pac 12 regular season champion, and the top ten in the conference in scoring margin, field goal percentage, defensive field goal percentage, three-point shooting, and assist to turnover ratio. They have a trio of players who average in double figures, led by Jaime Weisner's 14 points per game, good for sixth best in the conference.
The biggest challenge for the Jackrabbits will be game planning for OSU's center Ruth Hamblin. The 6'6" junior is the Pac 12's Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, averaging 10 points and nine rebounds a game. Hamblin is in the top ten in the nation in blocked shots, with an average of four rejections per game. Coach Johnston talks about the Beavers program and how the approach to playing against Hamblin will be similar to how SDSU attacked Oral Roberts 6'7" center Vicky McIntyre in two regular season meetings:
OSU won its opening round NCAA Tournament game last year, beating Middle Tennessee State, before losing to South Carolina in round two.
SDSU is pretty close to full strength for the NCAA Tournament, except for Chynna Stevens, who started 22 games for the Jackrabbits, but missed seven games at the end of the regular season with an injury and has only played sparingly since, scoring just nine points in three games. When healthy, the sophomore was the second-best rebounder on the team, and fifth best scorer. Coach Johnston says she will play Friday in Oregon, but just how much he doesn't know:
The Jackrabbits have lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in four of their previous five appearances. Their only win came in their first-ever NCAA Tournament game, beating TCU in 2009. This is the ninth straight post season appearance for SDSU in the Division I era.
This will be the second all-time meeting between these teams. Oregon State beat the then-Division II Jackrabbits, 68-65, in November 2004.