Nine months ago, the South Dakota women's basketball team was one weekend away from winning their third straight Summit League regular season title, but instead dropped to fourth in the standings with a pair of losses, before exiting the conference tournament in the first round, then going 1-1 in WNIT play.

This season's Coyote team is poised to see things all they way through to the end as the open Summit League play this weekend.

USD (8-5) has won four-of-five heading into the match-up with Denver.

The Coyotes are playing solid defense so far in the 2017-18 season, forcing 20 or more turnovers five times, 44 in the last two victories alone. Guard Madison McKeever is keying the defense with 16 steals in the last four games. USD's 63 points per game allowed is second best among Summit League teams in non-conference play.

On the offensive end, South Dakota is taking care of the basketball with single digit turnovers in four of their last seven games.

And while the Coyotes shooting accuracy and rebounding have been inconsistent at times, they are third in the Summit in scoring so far, tops in free throw accuracy.

USD is dealing with the disappointment of losing veteran Caitlin Duffy, who had been granted a sixth-year of eligibility by the NCAA after missing all of last season with an injury. But three games into this season, Duffy decided to call it a career.

The Coyotes did get Jasmine Trimboli back after she missed all of last year and she has responded with 33 points in the last two games, including a 10-of-12 shooting performance against North Dakota.

Junior guard Allison Arens and sophomore guard Ciara Duffy have been USD's most consistent scorers so far. Arens, the leading scorer last season, has scored in double figures eight times this season, Duffy, who has missed three games, has scored in double figures six times.

Saturday (December 30), they'll be hosting a Denver team picked to finish seventh in the eight-team league.

The Pioneers (8-6) have a new head coach this season. Jim Turgeon takes over after successful stints at Colorado State - Pueblo and Iowa Western Community College.

Denver has won four-of-six despite shooting less than 40 percent from the floor this season. They have been getting a balanced attack from some young players. Sophomores Briana Johnson and Madison Nelson, along with freshmen Carie Weinman and Claire Gritt have combined for 37 points per game.

Junior guard Samanta Romanowski has scored 35 points in the last two games and had 26 in two meetings with USD last season.

Denver is excelling on the glass so far this season, averaging better than 40 rebounds a game, tops in the Summit. Nelson and senior Jordyn Alt are pulling down 14 offensive rebounds a game between them.

The Pioneers have also committed the second-fewest turnovers among Summit League teams.

Tipoff is 1:00 PM, Saturday in Vermillion.

I talked with USD Coach Dawn Plitzuweit about the non-conference schedule and Saturday's Summit League opener with Denver: