SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - North Dakota State's women's basketball team showed it can hang with, and in many cases beat, Summit League women’s basketball teams from third place on down this season. The top two are another matter.
South Dakota State ended the Bison season Monday afternoon in the Summit Tournament semifinals at the Denny Sanford Premier Center. The 76-56 victory put the Jackrabbits into Tuesday’s 1 p.m. title game against the University of South Dakota, with the winner earning the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
This season, the Summit was USD and SDSU and everybody else. After years of mediocrity, NDSU at least closed the gap in a year that ended 11-19. Take away SDSU and USD and the Bison went 8-5 against the rest of the conference.
Moreover, the end of the career for senior Rylee Nudell had a different vibe than her first three years.
“It feels really good, we got into a nice groove the past three months,” said Nudell, a senior from Maple Valley (N.D.) High School. “We’re playing a lot better. Compared to the first three years, it’s been excellent.”
The season included a win in the tournament for the first time since 2009.
“I just thanked our entire team in the locker room for being so coachable and so receptive to a new staff,” said first-year head coach Jory Collins. “Even when we were really poor in November and December, they still showed up every day and came to work and were just willing to be coached by us. I feel like we had a ton of growth throughout the year, which was our No. 1 goal coming in was to just become better as a program.”
Reaching the title game was asking too much, however.
The Jacks, 23-9, forged their first double-digit lead on their first possession of the second quarter on a 3-pointer from Tori Nelson. That made it 25-15. The SDSU freshman had missed 21 straight 3-pointers before connecting against NDSU.
If the Bison had hopes of sticking with SDSU, upset factors like poor Jackrabbit shooting and low NDSU turnovers were not present. The Jacks were hitting at over a 50 percent clip at that point while the Bison committed seven turnovers.
“They’re bigger and stronger than us,” Nudell said. “They’re put together really well.”
At least early on it wasn’t the blowout from late February when SDSU took an 85-58 win at NDSU’s Sanford Health Athletic Complex. A pair of 3-pointers by Bison freshman guard Nicole Scales kept the Jacks within reasonable sight.
SDSU led 38-30 at halftime with the Bison missing several open 3-point attempts.
“If we make any perimeter shots,” Collins said.
Tagyn Larson opened the second half for the Jackrabbits with a jumper, NDSU turned it over and Nelson converted on the other end and it was quickly a 12-point game.
The Bison were called for an offensive foul. Rylie Cascio Jensen then hit a 3-pointer for SDSU, meaning the Jacks scored seven straight without the Bison getting off a shot.
“We came out the first two minutes of the second half poorly,” Collins said. “It was an uphill battle for there. Their strength and size inside are an issue for us to maintain. And if they have people on the perimeter making 3s, that makes it even tougher.”
A sign the Bison were not in the mood to keep pace with the Jacks: Forward Michelle Gaislerova, who earlier this season set an NCAA Division I record for consecutive free throws made with 75, missed two in a row.
SDSU led 53-34 at the time. Nelson led the Jacks with 21 points. Senior Tylee Irwin added 18 points and five assists.
If there was any potential for the Jackrabbits to overlook NDSU with USD on the horizon, the Jacks didn’t show it.
“They had a good plan on how to defend us with different types of defenses,” said SDSU head coach Aaron Johnston. “I thought our team adjusted well in the second half. (NDSU) is in a good trajectory and no doubt they’ll be a team that continues to improve.”
The improvement, Collins said, will include transfer and incoming high school players.
“Those two are obviously a notch above everybody else in the league,” Collins said of SDSU and USD. “We’re trying to get as close to those guys as we can and when we get close to them we’ll try and make the next step and become part of that group. We’ve improved. With the kids coming in and the kids coming back, I’m excited about us being a better basketball team next year. This year was a whole bunch about our mental approach and trying to set a foundation and culture of winning.”
NDSU 15 30 41 56
SDSU 22 38 58 76
NDSU (11-19): Nudell 3-8 3-4 9, Dietz 2-7 1-2 5, Zivaljevic 1-4 3-4 5, Cobbins 3-9 6-6 12, Gaislerova 6-12 0-2 14, Rimdal 0-0 2-2 2, Scales 2-5 0-0 6, Terrer van Gool 1-3 1-2 3, Voegeli 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 18-48 16-22.
SDSU (23-9): Nelson 9-12 0-0 21, Larson 4-9 1-2 10, Burckhard 5-8 4-4 14, Cascio Jensen 1-4 0-0 3, Irwin 7-13 2-2 18, Theuninck 1-2 1-2 4, Bultsma 1-8 0-0 2, Stapleton 0-5 0-2 0, Ferrand 1-2 2-2 4. Totals: 29-63 10-14.
Total fouls: NDSU 15, SDSU 21. Fouled out: none. Rebounds: NDSU 30 (Nudell 6); SDSU 32 (Burckhard 8). 3-point goals: NDSU 4-16 (Nudell 0-3, Cobbins 0-3, Gaislerova 2-6, Scales 2-4); SDSU 8-26 (Nelson 3-4, Larson 1-3, Cascio Jensen 1-3, Irwin 2-7, Theuninck 1-2, Stapleton 0-5, Ferrand 0-1, Bultsma 0-1). Assists: NDSU 9 (Zivaljevic 3); SDSU 16 (Irwin 5). Turnovers: NDSU 18 (Cobbins 7); SDSU 8 (three with 2).