Jackrabbit women go dancing for first time in SDSU history

Chris Mangan

Chris Mangan

The SDSU women’s basketball team is dusting off their dancing shoes.

The Jacks came back from a 10-point halftime deficit to get a 79-69 victory over Oakland to advance to the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.

“There’s a certain relationship that our fans, our staff, our university have with the players,” SDSU head coach Aaron Johnston said. “We talked in the locker room that we’re fighting for South Dakota; we’re fighting for the people that are here fighting for us. To have the feeling and have players that respect that idea – embrace that idea – means an awful lot.”

In order for the Jacks to get to the tournament, they had to overcome a hot-shooting Oakland team in the first half. Jessica Pike had 20 points of her 22 in the first half alone, and the Grizzlies had not lost when leading at halftime this season.

“In the first half, they caught the ball wherever they wanted to be,” Johnston said. “In the second half, they had to work a lot harder to find good spots and when they did, they were further away from the basket.”

Things got going early for the Jacks in the second half. SDSU was able to close the gap to just three at the first media timeout, and the Grizzlies never really recovered.

“Halftime took away the momentum,” Oakland head coach Beckie Francis said. “I’ve never seen Jessica Pike that focused for 20 minutes. Then they let up. I could see it in their eyes. We took that punch, weren’t able to respond and it’s ball game.”

Tournament MVP and regular season Summit League Player of the Year Jennifer Warkenthien took over in the second half. The senior scored 12 of her 23 and pulled down seven of her 11 rebounds in the final 20 minutes.

“We just played a lot harder in the second half,” Warkenthien said. “We didn’t want to go back to the locker room after the game feeling like we did at halftime.”

The Jacks became the first top seed to win the tournament since Youngstown State won in 1998.

“It’s our first time here,” Kristin Rotert said. “The No. 1 seed has never won it in the past 10 years. It’s a great chance to show our fans how hard we work in the off-season – how hard we work all year.”

Rotert scored 12 of her 15 in the second half.

It also helped that the Jacks were able to play in front of a partial crowd. Most of the 5,580 people in attendance were South Dakota State fans and helped get the Jacks back into the game.

“We talk about what a special place Frost [Arena] is,” Johnston said. “But Frost is a building. Frost is a special place because of the people that come to that building to watch teams play. Fans come out to watch basketball, but a lot of people come out to watch these great women compete and see what they’ve done for SDSU.”