Jacks aim to finish regular season strong

Landon Dierks, Sports Editor

Now more than two weeks removed from a 35-point loss to the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, the worst Summit League loss in program history, the Jackrabbits seem to have recovered heading into the final three weeks of the regular season.

Five days after losing to USD, SDSU stumbled through three quarters against 6-15 North Dakota State before pulling ahead late in a 60-52 win.

It looked like the loss to the Coyotes had a lasting effect, a sentiment SDSU head coach Aaron Johnston acknowledged following the win against the Bison, but the Jacks had five days before their next game to recompose and get ready for the final month before the conference tournament.

For the moment, the break looks to have done wonders. Last week, SDSU (17-7, 9-1 Summit) went on the road and dominated third-place Western Illinois 89-48. Two nights later, they dispatched fifth-place Oral Roberts 76-61 after holding a 20-plus point lead for much of the second half.

“It really started at Western Illinois,” Johnston said in a Feb. 3 update with GoJacks.com. “I thought our team, in preparation for that week, had a really good week of execution, but also just kind of reset a little bit mentally after a couple of games that didn’t go, offensively, the way we wanted. … Sometimes those resets mentally are just as important as anything you can do on the court in practice.”

Alongside the mental reset, Johnston pointed to freshman Tori Nelson’s return to the starting lineup for the first time since late December (she missed two games with an ankle injury before coming off the bench each game since Jan. 9) as another reason for the strong back-to-back showings.

“Tori moving into the starting lineup was really good for us at Western Illinois,” Johnston said. “Just having her length in there not only changes things at her position but moves Tylee (Irwin) to a different position and just gives us a different feel. And we still got good minutes from our bench.”

Nelson scored a game-high 17 points and grabbed five rebounds against WIU, adding six points and seven rebounds against ORU.

Another important piece to the Jacks’ success, senior Tagyn Larson, has scored at least 12 points in three straight games after reaching that threshold only twice in her previous seven games and continues to impact the game on the defensive end, recording a season-high 14 rebounds against ORU.

“We need Tagyn to be in that place every game,” Johnston said. “… We were able to run some things through her and I think we want her with that mindset. She’s not a complimentary player, she needs to go out there and assert the things she can do well.”

The biggest question yet to be answered: Can Jackrabbits close the gap between themselves and the Coyotes?

A definitive answer will likely come Feb. 22 when the Coyotes visit Brookings, but for now Johnston is focused on continuing to win one game at a time.

“I really like these single-game weeks in the middle of the season, not just because you get a little bit of rest, but because I think it gives you a chance to go back and add, improve and find some ways to create new angles,” Johnston said. “We’ll make the best of [the time off], but we have some good momentum from this past weekend and definitely want to keep it going.”