Jacks advance to WNIT semifinals

Evan Patzwald, Assistant Sports Editor (He/Him)

The South Dakota State women’s basketball team (27-9) continued their march through the WNIT after they defeated Alabama Sunday night in front of a packed house at Frost Arena. They are now set to face UCLA (18-12) in the semifinal round Thursday night with a shot to make the championship game.

It was a wild game Sunday in the quarterfinal round that saw 4,268 fans in attendance, the most for a women’s basketball game since the 2015-16 season. The game was filled with lots of runs, including SDSU leading by as many as 17 points in the first quarter and Alabama flipping the switch and holding a 10-point lead in the fourth.

The Jacks stormed back, but the Crimson Tide had the ball with under a minute to play, trailing by two points with a chance to tie the game or take the lead. Tylee Irwin came up with a clutch steal and kicked it out to Lindsey Theuninck for a 3-pointer that sealed the victory for the Jacks, winning 78-73. SDSU held Alabama to nine points in the fourth after giving up 34 to them in the third. 

Theuninck had a career night with 14 points, beating her previous best of 13. Haleigh Timmer led the Jacks with 17.

“We were fighting until the end, and when Lindsey made that shot, it was such a cool environment to be in,” Myah Selland said after the game.

Now, the Jacks are set for another home tournament game, with the Bruins coming to town. SDSU has already had a matchup with UCLA this season Nov. 27. The Jacks won the game when they were playing at the Gulf Coast Showcase. UCLA was ranked No. 15 in the country at the time. 

“I think that we’re going in with the same mentality that we’ve had these last four games,” Theuninck said on already seeing UCLA earlier this season. “We’ve gotta fight to have one more and we’re gonna leave everything out there.”

In their first matchup, the Jacks used a balanced attack to take the victory as four players finished in double figures, led by Theuninck and Tori Nelson with 11 points apiece. Paiton Burckhard and Paige Meyer also had 10, but Meyer will not be playing due to injury. Selland had nine points in 14 minutes, as she was still recovering from injury in the early parts of the year. Irwin did not play in the game. 

“They’ve had a lot of adversity in their season too and had a different season in mind,” coach Aaron Johnston said. “Both teams were really limping along back in November, but now have found a way to be playing good basketball.”

The Bruins’ path to the semifinals included wins over UC Irvine and Airforce at home, a triple-overtime thriller on the road against Wyoming, and another road win for Oregon State in the semifinals. 

On the other side of the bracket is Seton Hall facing off against Middle Tennessee Thursday at 6:30 p.m. The winner will advance to the championship game. 

This will be SDSU’s second time ever in the semifinals of the WNIT after making it that far back in 2014, before losing in that round to UTEP 63-66. The game will be played at Frost Arena at 7 p.m.

“We’re such a close group and we don’t want this to end, so we’re just going to keep fighting for another day and another game,” Selland said.