The wait is finally over for the South Dakota women's basketball team

This afternoon, the Coyotes will get their first taste of Summit League Tournament play, in their first year of eligibility, when they play North Dakota State.

The USD program was left with a lot of 'what ifs' after last season's third play finish in Summit League play, but no chance to advance to tournament play.  Once again this year, the Coyotes are number three, and this time they get to find out exactly how good they are in a three-game, winner-take-all format.

The season began on a rather bleak note, as first year head coach Amy Williams looked around at her team in the fall, only to see nearly as many of her players on crutches as with their sneakers on.  Five season ending injuries in all before the first game, leaving USD with just 10 players to do battle.

Early in conference play, things were clicking for the Coyotes, as they went 6-2 their first trip through the Summit League, sitting in second place.  The second half was a much bigger test, as USD dropped four of five and fell back into the middle of the pack.  But three straight wins to close out the season, put them back at third heading into this weekend's tournament.

Tempestt Wilson is having a solid senior season, fifth in the Summit in scoring (16 points per game), sixth in free throw shooting (81%), seventh in free throws made (47), and eighth in field goal percentage.  She has been the one certainty on a sometimes uncertain USD roster, making her 77th consecutive start for the Coyotes today.

This year, she's getting help from a couple of new faces on the floor.  Australian Nicole Seekamp sat out last season to redshirt, and this year she's been good enough to make the Summit League's All-Newcomer Team.  The sophomore is 11th in scoring (13 points per game), fourth in assists, and seventh in steals.

The other newbie making an impact is Rapid City's Margaret McCloud.  The freshman has developed into one of the top bench players in the Summit League, 10th in rebounding, first in field goal percentage (64%), and eighth in blocked shots, all averaging just 18 minutes a game.

The Coyotes are third in the league in scoring (62 points per game) and scoring defense (56 points per game), and are the toughest to shoot against, with opponents hitting just 36 percent of their shots.

North Dakota State has had roster issues as well this season, with six players missing considerable playing time.  Two in particular, Janae Burich and Hannah Linz, appearing in just 15 game between them.  Burich has been out since she was injured in November, Linz's career was cut short when she was re-diagnosed with cancer in December. They had combined for 19 points and 11 rebounds a game.

Katie Birkel has been leading the way for the Bison this season.  She's sixth in the Summit in scoring (16 points per game) and ninth in made three-pointers (24).  Senior Dani DeGagne is having a solid season, leading the conference in rebounding (9 per game), fourth in steals, fifth in assists, fourth in free throws made, and seventh in scoring (15 points per game).

It's been an up and down year for NDSU, with wins over number two IUPUI and number three USD, but a pair of three-game losing streaks in conference play as well.  The Bison take care of the ball better than anyone in the Summit (12 turnovers a game - 20th best in the nation), but give up more points than any other team (66 per game).

The Coyotes and Bison split the regular season series, with each winning on the others home floor.  USD won by 21 in Fargo, in January, as they rallied from a six-point halftime deficit with a 14-0 run to start the second half.  Seekamp had 14 of her game-high 20 in the second half, as the Coyotes limited the NDSU to just 25 percent shooting in the second half.

A month later, in Vermillion, in a game that featured nine lead changes and eight ties, the Bison outscored USD 9-2 in the final two minutes to win by seven.  Katie Birkel was big after intermission notching 18 of her 24 points.

Tipoff is 2:30 this afternoon at the Sioux Falls Arena. The winner plays second-seed IUPUI in the semifinals tomorrow afternoon at 2:30.