Women face tough test on road as season comes to close

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The South Dakota State women’s basketball team is undefeated on the road in Summit League play.

But the Jacks, who have won five straight games, will face their toughest test on the road this season Feb. 17 against Western Illinois and Feb. 21 against South Dakota.

The Jacks improved to 21-5 overall and 10-1 in the Summit League after wins over Denver and Oral Roberts last week.

Junior guard Macy Miller leads SDSU averaging 18.1 points per game and junior guard Madison Guebert is scoring 15 a game.

While the Jacks have been red hot on offense, they will go up against the Summit League’s top scoring team in Western Illinois.

Senior guard Emily Clemens, junior guard Taylor Higginbotham and senior guard Morgan Blumer average 17.9, 17.1 and 15 points per game, respectively for the Fighting Leathernecks. As a team, WIU averages 84.1 points per game.

After finishing with a 13-1 home record last season, Western Illinois has continued their home court dominance at Western Hall in 2017-18 by posting a 10-2 record.

“They play really well at home, probably as best as any team in our league,” said head coach Aaron Johnston. “A lot is going to depend on who takes care of the ball better. We’ve been forcing a lot of turnovers lately and they have, too, so it will be a matter of who gets more quality shots.”

The only three losses the Fighting Leathernecks have suffered this season in Summit League play have been against SDSU and USD.

Western Illinois (19-7, 8-3) came to Frost Arena Jan. 20 and the Jackrabbits gave the defending Summit League Tournament champion their worst loss of the season, winning 84-48.

“We were very energetic in that game,” Johnston said. “We played at a high level and shot the ball really well and that slowed down their transition. Missing a lot of shots causes them to get out in transition, run and score points. We also did a good job of guarding the rim on the other side of the ball by forcing them to take jump shots.”

After Western Illinois, the Jacks will look to get revenge against South Dakota after suffering their only conference loss against them Jan. 25. As of this week, the Coyotes are carrying a 15-game winning streak dating back to Dec. 16, 2017.

Johnston said there is a lot on the line with these next two games, but the team should be excited.

“It’s an exciting time to be playing meaningful games,” Johnston said. “Both have a lot of meaning with conference standings and for seeding in the conference tournament. I think we should be fired up about these challenges. Both games will be tough, both being on the road.”

Game No. 2 between the in-state rivals will have a lot at stake. It will likely determine who the Summit League regular season champion and the top seed in the Summit League Tournament.

In an early prediction of the NCAA tournament layout, ESPN.com’s women’s basketball bracketologist Charlie Creme lists the Jacks and Coyotes both in the tournament. Should that happen, it would be the first time ever that the conference would have two teams in the tournament.

Johnston said while it would be great for his team and the conference to have multiple teams in the tournament, there is still a long way to go between now and the big dance.

“We’ll see what happens,” Johnston said. “I think we’ve been in that conversation for a number of years. We try to position ourselves that way with our scheduling and how well we play in those games in November and December. The ultimate goal is just to keep winning games.”

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