Three’s company


Marcus TraxlerAssistant Sports Editor

It ends where it began.

SDSU lost to Oakland at home on January 24, 57-56 in overtime and the Jackrabbits missed free throws, looked weak defensively and didn’t seem to have that finishing power that they’ve had in the past.

SDSU has changed since that.

The Jackrabbits toughened up and found a way to finish, recording their third straight Summit League Championship in as many chances, defeating Oakland 61-54 on Tuesday at the Sioux Falls Arena.

“It’s been amazing and not to take away anything from what we’ve done the last two years, but this one right here means the most. To fight through the adversity that our team has had this year, to struggle, and everybody on the outside doubting us. But together, this team made it happen,” said Kristin Rotert, who was named the tournament’s MVP and averaged over 16 points per game over the three days.

Tested yet again, SDSU found a way to hold off the Golden Grizzlies, committing to the defensive end of the court and holding Oakland without a basket in the final two minutes of the game.

“I think that’s the kind of toughness that maybe we didn’t have all the time throughout the year. The talent was there but we didn’t have that kind of grittiness throughout the year. As the game wore on, our defense got better and better,” said Jackrabbit head coach Aaron Johnston.

The title game’s first half was closely contested with the Jacks and Oakland drawing even three times before SDSU could put together enough of a spurt to hold a 33-29 lead at halftime.

The Jackrabbits led the game just about all day but were never able to put away the fourth-seeded Golden Grizzlies. The inability to do so was never more apparent than when SDSU constructed a 10 point lead with 3:43 left. Oakland made three triples, the last of which cut the lead to three with just over two minutes to go.

“I would have been surprised if we would have pulled away from Oakland. We had a lot of individual players who were making a lot of big plays but we never really felt like we were going to pull away,” said Johnston.

With the game riding on free throws again, veterans Kristin Rotert and Jill Young teamed up to make three from the stripe, capping a tournament championship and making the Jackrabbits 9-0 all-time in Summit League tournament games.

Rotert had 17 points, matching the effort put forth by Oakland’s Bethany Watterworth. The low post duo of Jennie Sunnarborg and Katie Lingle each came up with 13 points and SDSU’s offense turned the ball over a season-low 10 times, reversing the stat that had been against the Jacks for the first half of the year.

“We made a conscious effort. We took care of the ball and we didn’t force anything that didn’t need to be forced,” Macie Michelson said.

Johnston says that his team isn’t the same as it was a couple of years ago and is much more efficient.

“I think we’re really a different team than we were 2 or 3 years ago. We don’t have tempo that we used to play with and we have to be more efficient and slow things down.

Nevertheless, the Jacks are dancing again.

“We came back and made big shots and big plays all the time and that’s why we were successful and will be successful every year,” Johnston said.

#1.2083327:1852642403.jpg:SDSU:SDSU poses after beating Oakland in Tuesday’s Summit League championship matchup.:Collegian Photo by Stephen Brua