Historic season ends in heartbreak

Drue Aman

Drue Aman

The strength of the Jackrabbits led them back into the ballgame; their weakness drove them out.

SDSU, finishing the season at 22-11, shrunk a 13-point halftime deficit to seven with just under four minutes using effective and alternating defensive schemes, but the Jacks failed to convert on the offensive end, losing 68-57 to third-seeded Oklahoma in Norman, Okla., on March 21.

The comeback, if earned by the Jacks and relinquished by the Sooners, would have been the first time a No. 14 seed in the NCAA Women’s Tournament upset a No. 3 seed &- and on Oklahoma’s home court, no less. The results may have been different with baskets at opportune times, which SDSU hit too infrequently.

“Had a couple more shots within a couple feet gone in, it would have changed the complexion of the game,” said Jacks head coach Aaron Johnston, whose team reached a Division-I postseason tournament for the fourth year in a row. “But Oklahoma showed a lot of toughness and energy.”

It was a toughness, speed, agility and energy SDSU has competed against rarely in a road environment incomparable to Jacks’ road games in multiple years. The acclimation process was not easy in the first-half.

“It wasn’t more than we expected,” said junior Kristin Rotert on the atmosphere and style of play. “It just took a little while to get used to. … We played a little faster than we wanted to, and their presence inside kind of forced us to alter our shots.”

The Jacks started the game in typical SDSU fashion, hitting from behind the arc and moving the ball well. With an 11-10 lead at the 16:16 mark in the first-half that quieted the 5,368 mostly-Oklahoma fans, the Jacks gave up a 14-2 Sooners run feed by sloppy passing, allowing second-chance scoring opportunities and rushed jumpers on the offensive end. The physicality of Oklahoma inside also hampered the Jacks, allowing 42 points &- most of them in the first half – inside the paint. The run gave Oklahoma, a final-four team last year, a lead that would last until the final buzzer.

“At halftime we talked as a team that we need to play harder and more composed,” said senior forward Maria Boever. “We just started playing Jackrabbit basketball … but it was too little too late.”

The second-half defense by SDSU kept the game from fading out of reach and eventually posed a threat for a comeback using a back-and-forth substitution from man-to-man to a 2-3 zone scheme that puzzled the Sooners’ offense.

“If it did anything for us, I think it got them to maybe settle some shots and lose some of their aggressiveness going to the basket,” said Johnston.

The lead dwindled, reaching its low-point after a field goal with 3:52 remaining by freshman Leah Dietel, who saw her first action since missing 10 games due to injury. The Sooners strengthened their lead from there, as the Jacks finished the game shooting 37 percent, well below-average from their season mark of 46 percent. The Sooners ended the game shooting 44 percent from the field, impressive considering the Jacks held them to 32 percent in the second-half. Sooners forward Nyeshia Stevenson led the team in scoring with 17 points, while guard Danielle Robinson collected 13 points of her own while accounting for eight assists and four steals.

“It’s very emotional, but I think our team did a great job of fighting back this season,” said Boever. “I think we just went out there, we played our hearts out, so you can’t be too upset. We left everything on the floor.”

Boever, along with fellow seniors Ketty Cornemann and Alison Anderson, end their basketball careers with the loss, while their imprint on women’s basketball at SDSU will continue.

“They chose to come to SDSU on the idea that “maybe we could do some really neat things,'” said Johnston. “I think all of us at South Dakota State are really proud of them.”