Summit League Preview: South Dakota Women Host Denver, SDSU
When the South Dakota women's basketball team tipped off the 2016-17 season with a brand new coach, a roster missing a talented group of seniors who led the Coyotes to the WNIT crown last season, and two key players from this year's squad sidelined for perhaps the entire year with injuries, there were more than enough reasons to cause even the most diehard USD fan to have a concern or two.
But as coach Dawn Plitzuweit's team begins Summit League play this week, the Coyotes have silenced the doubters with an 11-2 start, including wins over Illinois of the Big Ten and San Jose State of the Mountain West.
With seniors Caitlin Duffy and Jasmine Trimboli likely done for the season, USD is having to get contributions from previously unproven players. Sophomore Allison Arens has made the biggest splash so far, leading the conference in scoring with better than 20 points per game. She's also second in shooting, hitting close to 55 percent from the floor. Arens is also the team's second leading rebounder, averaging five a game.
Fellow sophomore Jaycee Bradley is making the most of her first season as a starter with 15 points per game thru the first 13. A pair of true freshmen are having an immediate impact - Ciara Duffy is third in scoring (12 points per game), while Madison McKeever is getting the most minutes off the bench and is emerging as a top defender with the fifth most steals in league play so far (24).
Seniors Abigail Fogg and Bridget Arens are providing the veteran leadership, averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds between them.
USD came quite close to running the table during non-conference play, losing by just three at Arkansas, and falling in overtime at Wyoming, despite shooting just 33 percent.
South Dakota is perfect so far in their new home, the Sanford Coyote Sports Center, wining all five games in non-conference play.
Home is where they find themselves to open league play this week.
Wednesday night the Coyotes host Denver. The Pioneers (3-10) have lost eight of nine, in part because of injuries to some key players. Seniors Jacqlyn Poss (13 points per game) and Jesse Spittell (7 points, 6 rebounds per game) are starting alongside a sophomore and two freshmen.
Tipoff is 7:00 PM Wednesday in Vermillion.
Saturday afternoon, South Dakota hosts pre-season Summit League favorite South Dakota State.
The Jackrabbits (9-3) are dealing with injury woes of their own with conference pre-season player of the year Macy Miller out for the season with a leg injury and last season's defensive player of the year, Clarissa Ober, banged up.
Like USD, SDSU has been relying on other players pick up the slack. Kerri Young, Madison Guebert, and Ellie Thompson are all averaging in double figures in scoring.
The Jackrabbits lost two of three after Miller went down, but finished the non-conference schedule with an impressive 20-point win at Wichita State. Lexi Alexander, starting in place of Miller, notched her first double figure scoring game of the season, hitting for 13 points of 4-of-7 shooting.
USD and SDSU tipoff at 3:30 PM Saturday in Vermillion.
I talked with Coach Plitzuweit about the season so far, and what to expect from week one in the Summit League: