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South Dakota Coyotes Host Oregon Ducks in WNIT Semifinals

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South Dakota is known worldwide for its pheasant hunting, but for one night in Vermillion this week, it will be open season on duck, as USD hosts Oregon in the semifinals of the 2016 WNIT.

Four games into their deepest run into the Division I post season, the Coyotes are finding all sorts of different way to win games.

USD has victories in a high-scoring road game (Minnesota), a low-scoring home game (Northern Iowa), and a pair of other games in which they were out shot by their opponents (Creighton and Western Kentucky).

Throughout the post season, the Coyotes have been sparked by defense, rebounding, and three-point shooting. The South Dakota defense forced 31 turnovers in the first two rounds and allowed just a trio of three-pointers in the last two. In those last two wins, USD is plus-38 on the glass. In three of the four games, South Dakota has notched double digit totals from behind the three-point arc (10 vs. Creighton, 13 vs. Minnesota, 12 vs. Western Kentucky).

The Coyotes (30-6, RPI – 62), the regular season champions of the Summit League, have made the most of their second chance this season, following a five-point loss to South Dakota State in the conference tournament final. USD has parlayed an automatic WNIT bid into a quartet of wins.

South Dakota has won 20-of-21 and has the 12th best scoring offense in the nation (78 points per game). The Coyotes are also in the top 20 nationally in total rebounds, rebound margin, three-pointers made, three-point percentage, assists, assist-to-turnover ratio, and steals.

Oregon (24-10, RPI – 84) finished sixth in the PAC-12 this season, after losing the conference’s Co-Player of the Year, Jillian Alleyne, to a season-ending knee injury at the end of February. The 6’3 forward was in the top 10 in the nation in rebounding (14 per game) and field goal percentage (59%).

Without Alleyne, the Ducks have become more of a perimeter shooting team. Coming into the game at the DakotaDome, Oregon the most accurate three-point shooting team in the nation (42%), and have the eighth highest overall field goal percentage (47%). They rank in the top 25 in three-pointers attempted and made.

The Ducks have knocked down 44 three-pointers in their four WNIT wins. Oregon made 14 threes in a 84-76 win over Long Beach State and 13 triples in a 84-59 win over Fresno State.

In round three, Oregon got 34 points from sophomore guard Lexi Bando (6 three-pointers), rallying from eight points down to beat Utah 73-63. Bando is seventh in the nation in three-point accuracy this season (45%).

In the quarterfinals, the Ducks went on the road for the first time in the 2016 WNIT, and immediately fell behind by 18 at Texas-El Paso. But 71 percent second half shooting brought Oregon all the way back for a 71-67 win. Five players scored in double figures for the Ducks, who escaped with a victory despite turning the ball over 20 times and giving up 15 offensive rebounds.

Oregon has a wealth of history in this tournament. The Ducks are 18-4 all-time in the WNIT, winning in all in 2002. Oregon also won the event in 1989 when it was known as the National Women’s Invitational Tournament.

This game will feature two very talented guards. USD senior Nicole Seekamp, the Summit League Player of the Year, is the only player in the nation to average 16 points, six assists, and 2.6 steals per game. Oregon’s freshman Maite Cazorla, a native of Spain, is in the top 20 in the nation in assists. She led the PAC-12 in that category this season.

The 30 wins for the Coyotes this season are the most in the Division I era. Only one other time in school history has a USD women’s team won more than 30 games. The 2007-08 team went 33-2 and was the Division II Runner-Up.

Tipoff in 7:00 PM, Wednesday, in Vermillion. The winner advances to the WNIT Championship against either Florida-Gulf Coast or Michigan, Saturday, April 2, 2016, at 2:00 PM CDT. The site has yet to be determined.

I talked with South Dakota head coach Amy Williams about the Western Kentucky win and the semifinal match-up with Oregon:

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