Thursday night’s Summit League women’s basketball contest between South Dakota State and North Dakota at Frost Arena was meant to answer one question.
Can anyone in the conference compete with the Jackrabbits or South Dakota Coyotes for 40 minutes?
The answer was an emphatic no — at least not right now.
SDSU (14-6, 6-0 Summit) ran away from UND (12-6, 3-2 Summit) in a 99-64 result that ended up serving as little more than a tune-up for a Saturday date with USD.
The Fighting Hawks kept pace for all of six minutes before a 14-0 SDSU run to end the first quarter. Only once after halftime was UND able to pull it back under a 20-point margin — it took only 10 seconds for Jacks to push back over that threshold where the lead would stay for good.
UND head coach Travis Brewster pointed to his team’s youth as a factor in the lopsided loss. Fouling 33 times and shooting 31.9% from the field (1-for-22 from 3) didn’t help matters, but one thing was clear.
South Dakota State is markedly better than North Dakota — the team that, even after the loss, sits at third place in the conference standings.
Now attention swings toward the pivotal meeting with the Coyotes (16-2, 5-0 Summit), who spent Thursday night notching their own blowout win 190 miles north — an 80-36 demolition (and it probably wasn’t even that close if the 53-11 halftime score says anything) of North Dakota State in Fargo.
Both squads are undefeated in Summit League play — 6-0 for SDSU, 5-0 for USD — and only one of those 11 combined games resulted in a game closer than 14 points.
“I go back to that win at Green Bay right before Christmas,” said SDSU head coach Aaron Johnston. “We were really banged up then and had an injury during the game. I don’t know that there are turning points, but I think that game certainly gave us some good momentum going into after Christmas. … You’re seeing our team grow from that game. It’s been good throughout, it will be good after Saturday, but it’s been a good stretch of basketball.”
Just as was the case during a late-February meeting in Brookings last season, the Coyotes are nationally ranked, having earned the 25th and final spot in the most recent AP poll, but plenty has changed in the past 10 1/2 months.
The Jacks lost program legends Macy Miller and Madison Guebert to graduation and have battled injuries throughout the 2019-20 campaign. Meanwhile, the ‘Yotes lost only one senior (Allison Arens, a Summit first-teamer in her own right) and are in a much better place health-wise than the Jacks at this point in the season.
But as is often the case in rivalry matchups in any sport, it’s anyone’s best guess as to how things play out this time around.
“The game is always a little different,” said sophomore Paiton Burckhard, who scored a career-high 27 points Thursday. “The emotions are really high, but it’s just another game. We have to go out and play just like we have these past two games (both 30-plus-point wins while scoring 100 and 99 points).”
One thing is for sure, SDSU coach Aaron Johnston and his players aren’t interested in simply seeing how they measure up to their in-state rivals, they’re aiming for a win.
“I don’t know that there’s curiosity about how we match up,” Johnston said. “… We’ve played so many good teams this year, let alone the last several years. This is just another really good team we get to go and compete against — that’s what we’re looking forward to.”