South Dakota Coyotes Win 2016 WNIT Championship, Down Florida Gulf Coast 71-65
Tia Hemiller and the DakotaDome saved their best for last.
The senior guard tied a career-high with 22 points, in the final basketball game to be played in the Dome after 37 years, as the South Dakota Coyotes captured their first ever national post season title, beating Florida Gulf Coast in the 2016 WNIT Championship game, 71 - 65. A sellout crowd of 7,415 gave the DakotaDome its sendoff.
Hemiller also had eight rebounds as the Coyotes dominated the glass, outrebounding the Eagles 48-31. USD was especially good on the offensive glass, pulling down 14 rebounds leading to 16 second chance points. FGCU has 10 offensive rebounds but no second chance points.
The Eagles got 25 points from their leading scorer Kaneisha Atwater and nine blocked shots from two-time Atlantic Sun Conference player of the year Whitney Knight, but FGCU only managed to shoot 37 percent from the floor.
FGCU missed their first five shots of the game, but forced a pair of turnovers early and USD could only manage a four-point lead early.
The two teams traded 5-0 runs later in the quarter, the Eagles scoring spurt gave them an 11-10 lead, but very quickly, USD responded a jumper from Nicole Seekamp and a three-pointer from Caitlin Duffy to re-take the lead at 15-11. Kate Liveringhouse and Abigail Fogg sparked the Coyotes off the bench in the first 10 minutes with eight points and four rebounds. Fogg's buzzer beater gave South Dakota a 19-18 lead after one quarter. Seven different USD players scored in the first ten minutes.
Later in the first half, Florida Gulf Coast's #2 ranked defense in the nation showed up, turning USD over eight times in the first 13 minutes, leading to nine points off turnovers and a 25-21 lead.
But, the Coyotes' defense was equal to the task, holding the Eagles scoreless the final 4:30, as Florida Gulf Coast missed their final five shots and turned the ball over twice. South Dakota led 31-27 at halftime.
That scoreless drought for the Eagles stretched to 8:30, as USD scored the first five points of the second half to extend their lead to 36-27. That lead grew to as many as 12 points in the third quarter.
But Florida Gulf Coast knows how to win on the road, with 22 straight true road wins coming in, and they responded with the first five points of the fourth quarter to pull to within a basket. USD responded with six straight points from Hemiller to push the advantage back to seven.
With five minutes left, the Eagles again pulled to within two, but as she's been doing all post season long, Kelly Stewart hit a pair of big three-pointers to stop FGCU's momentum. The senior finished with 12 points.
Fogg joined Hemiller and Stewart in double figures with 10 points off the bench. The junior also had nine rebounds and three blocked shots, while helping to hold Knight to just 2-of-12 from the floor.
Seekamp, the Summit League player of the year, was just 3-of-15 from the floor for seven points, but did make a big contribution in her final college game with nine rebounds and eight assists.
South Dakota (32-6) won 22-of-23 to end the most successful season in the school's Division I history. Only one other time in program history had a USD women's team won more than 30 games. The 2007-08 team went 33-2 and was the Division II Runner-Up.
The DakotaDome had been the home of Coyote basketball since it opened in 1979. USD moves into a new on-campus arena next season.