Drue Aman

Drue Aman

The speculation comes to a stop, the anticipation begins.

The Jacks are headed to Norman, Okla., to face third-seeded, Big 12 tournament runner-up Oklahoma on March 21. That day will mark the first time a team has stepped on-court and participated in the prestigious NCAA Tournament in its first two years of eligibility.

For head coach Aaron Johnston and most of the current players, the competition, excitement and allure of the tournament was experienced last season when they burst onto the tournament scene with an attention-grabbing performance, defeating 10th-seeded TCU 90-55 in Lubbock, Texas. Two nights later, SDSU came within one field goal of the second round and the sweet 16.

Now senior Ketty Cornemann is invigorated by another entry and chance to thrill Jacks fans.

“I’m really excited for this opportunity again,” said Cornemann. “We played really good basketball while we were there, and I think it made SDSU proud.”

The Jacks will face an Oklahoma Sooners squad that tied for second place in the regular season in the Big 12, a conference sending seven teams to the field of 64. Oklahoma accumulated a 10-10 record against tournament teams this season, including two wins over fourth-seeded Baylor and fourth-seeded Oklahoma State. The Sooners also played defending-champion and undefeated UCONN, losing by 16 but holding the lead as late as five minutes into the second-half.

“Oklahoma is awful good,” said Johnston. “They’ve won a lot of games this year; they have great tradition in women’s basketball. It’ll be a challenge, but this time of year you have to play well – our team needs to play good basketball.”

At times this season, the Jacks have done that. They enter the tournament 3-2 against tournament teams, including wins against Gonzaga, who won 27 of their next 30 games after playing the Jacks, and Middle Tennessee State, who went 22-1 after losing to the Jacks in Brookings back in December. The Jacks enter the tournament as winners of 13 of their last 15 games, emblematic of a team finding their identity after an inconsistent 5-6 start to this season’s campaign.

As proficient an end to the regular season as SDSU had, Southern Utah, Oakland and even Oral Roberts are not Oklahoma.

“We want to play with confidence, I think that’s real important for us,” said Johnston. “We’re going to have to believe in our system on offense and defense.

“Oklahoma has a lot of quickness on their perimeter and a lot of size in the post, so we’ve got some obstacles there, but this team can play good basketball.

If the Jacks arrive back in Brookings with a first-round exit, intimidation will not have been a factor. SDSU has faced five tournament teams each of the past two seasons, winning seven of those games.

“We’ve played other teams that are in the tournament. I don’t think we’re going to get caught off guard by the level of play,” said Johnston. “Oklahoma’s awful good, but they’re not going to surprise us.”

SDSU is a team quickly that went from first-year tournament darlings to perennial mid-major threat.

“I think Oklahoma is a great draw for us,” said Cornemann, who wished for a matchup in closer proximity to South Dakota. “I still think we’re going to get a great crowd there to support us.”