Yes, the women’s basketball battles between South Dakota and South Dakota State are as important as every other game the two programs will play in a season, but there’s certainly a different element to them.
So said SDSU head coach Aaron Johnston on Tuesday.
“It’d be silly to try and say it’s not a big deal,” he said during a weekly media session to preview this weekend’s Summit League games between the Coyotes and Jackrabbits at Frost Arena in Brookings.
And so, the stage is set for another round of games between the two programs that have dominated the conference.
South Dakota (10-3, 6-0) and No. 23-ranked South Dakota State (13-2, 6-0), which have faced each other in the last three Summit League tournament title games, will meet Friday and Saturday.
A change to the conference schedule this season means both games will be played in Brookings, but no matter where they’re played or what the atmosphere is like (there will be a limited crowd at Frost Arena), the magnitude remains the same.
“I know for a fact that playing in these kind of games are why people would choose to come to a South Dakota State,” Johnston said.
As such, the Jackrabbits aren’t going to shrug off the significance of their meetings with the Coyotes, he added.
“So we don’t want to downplay it or pretend like it’s nothing,” Johnston said. “We don’t want to overestimate anything or emphasize anything either, but we’ll try to play into that a little bit.
And that’s the way it should be, he added.
“It’s a rivalry game, so it should mean a little bit more,” Johnston said.
Because of the change in the conference schedules this season (games on consecutive days at one site), there’s a valid point to made that this weekend’s games are more meaningful for the regular season championship chase — a sweep either way would go further in locking up a No. 1 seed, for example.
Doing so, as always, is going to prove difficult for both sides.
This weekend’s games will pit the top-two offenses (both in scoring and shooting) and top-two defenses in the Summit League. The Coyotes have the edge in rebounding margin, just shy of five more per game than the Jacks, and they’re 1-2 in the league in turnover margin.
Since opening the season with a pair of losses to top-25 opponents South Carolina and Gonzaga, the Coyotes have won 10 of 11.
The Jackrabbits, meanwhile, have beaten three ranked opponents in Iowa State, Gonzaga and Missouri State, and have lost to Kansas State and Northern Iowa.
Johnston was asked Tuesday about the battle in the post between each team’s post players, which could certainly be a factor in the outcomes.
“Points in the paint are always a premium in every game we play, and this one in particular,” Johnston said. “I think they do a great job with defending the lane.”
The Coyotes, he added, help, rotate and recover “as well as anyone we play,” and make it hard for the opposing offense to get easy baskets.
Offensively, the Coyotes get a combined 50 points per game from their top-three in Hannah Sjerven (17.1 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 2.4 bpg), Chloe Lamb (17.2 ppg) and Liv Korngable (15.8 ppg, 3.6 apg).
While Sjerven is physical under the basket, the guard duo of Lamb and Korngable are versatile enough to hurt opposing defenses in many ways, according to Johnston.
“You can’t just say, ‘Hey if we take away one thing, that’ll really slow them down,’ because they’ve proven to score in multiple ways,” he said.
Beyond those three players, the Coyotes have also gotten production from Maddie Krull (7.1 ppg, 3 rpg), Kyah Watson (5.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg), Morgan Hansen (4.8 ppg, 2 rpg), Jeniah Ugofsky (3.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg) and Natalie Mazurek (2.3 ppg, 2.4 rpg).
“On the flip side, I really like how our team is playing,” Johnston said. “Myah (Selland) has been fantastic, but we’ve also had a lot of contributors from other people on the team.”
Selland is the league’s top scorer at 18.9 points per game, and has also averaged 7.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game. She is joined in SDSU’s main attack by Paiton Burckhard (12.1 ppg), Tylee Irwin (11.6 ppg) and Tori Nelson (9.8 ppg).
The Jackrabbits also have Haley Greer (5.7 ppg, 2.3 rpg), Lindsey Theuninck (5.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg), Madysen Vlastuin (3.3 ppg), Mesa Byom (2.2 ppg, 2.1 rpg), Regan Nesheim (1.4 ppg, 3.1 rpg) and Sydney Stapleton (1.3 ppg).
\While some of the faces in this season’s rivalry games may be new, the games themselves might look familiar. Other than USD’s 35-point rout of the Jacks last season in Vermillion, the matchups have typically been tight — a few possessions either way.
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