Jacks remain unbeaten: Jackrabbits 9-0 halfway through Summit League slate

Skyler Jackson, Co-Sports Editor

After two more Summit League wins on the road, the South Dakota State women’s basketball team returns to Frost Arena this weekend for two more games against St. Thomas and Western Illinois.

The Jackrabbits (16-5, 9-0) are now at the halfway point in their Summit League schedule coming off two wins against Omaha and Denver. They’ve won nine consecutive conference games, seven of them by double digits and will now face two teams near the bottom of the conference standings.

“I’m really proud of the team for figuring out a way to get two important wins for us and wrap up the first half of the conference season,” coach Aaron Johnston said. “In both games, we had to make some plays, and I thought our team responded well.”

Their first matchup of the weekend will be the #BeatType1 game Thursday against St. Thomas (7-12, 2-7). The two teams met earlier this season on New Year’s Eve in Saint Paul, Minnesota. The Jacks walked away with a 61-51 win.

The Tommies are struggling this season but are showing signs of improvement. Their seven overall wins this season already match their total from last year with nine games to go. In both of their matchups with the Jacks last year, they lost by an average of 41 points. When the two teams met this season, it was more of a battle, with SDSU winning by 10.

They are last in the Summit League in scoring offense (63.4 points per game) but first in scoring defense (62.8 points allowed). They are led in scoring by Maggie Negaard, averaging 12.7 points per game. Their leading rebounder is Sammy Opichka with 4.6 boards per game and their leader in assists is Jade Hill with 3.7 per game.

After that, the Jackrabbits will then host Western Illinois Saturday in the Title IX Celebration. The Leathernecks (8-12, 3-6) hosted the Jackrabbits Dec. 29 in Macomb and were defeated 85-63.

After a 26-7 record and the Summit League championship in 2017 and a 22-10 finish in 2018, the Leathernecks have since struggled to match that success. Last season, they snuck into the conference tournament as the No. 7 seed and were crushed by eventual champion South Dakota.

This year, they are again sitting seventh in the conference standings and are coming off back-to-back wins. They will face USD in Vermillion Thursday before heading to Frost Arena.

Anna Deets leads the team in scoring at 12.9 points per game. Their leader in rebounds is Alissa Dins with 7.1 per game and their assist leader is Elizabeth Lutz with 2.8 per game. As a team, the Leathernecks are sixth in the conference in scoring offense (69.1 points per game) and ninth in scoring defense (73.7 per game).

“Now, we come home and look forward to a couple of big games this weekend where we have some big celebrations going on,” Johnston said. “It will be two really good opponents coming into town.”

At the halfway point in the Summit League schedule, the Jackrabbits are again dominating their conference opponents. They’ve lost only one regular-season conference game in the last three seasons combined.

This season, the Jacks also have a couple of impressive nonconference wins, one against Louisville, ranked No. 4 in the country at the time, and another against No. 24 Kansas State. SDSU’s last loss came Dec. 15 at the Sanford Pentagon against undefeated and top-ranked South Carolina.

They are coming off with two more road wins. One is a 68-61 win against Omaha and the other is a 74-64 win against Denver last week.

Against the Mavericks, the Jacks trailed by three at halftime before going on a 24-8 run in the third quarter to put the game away. Paiton Burckhard, playing in her 150th career game, was SDSU’s leading scorer with 14 points to go along with five rebounds and two assists.

For the season, Burckhard leads the Jackrabbits in field goal percentage, making 53% of her shots. She is also second on the team in points per game with 11.3. Myah Selland, the preseason favorite for Summit League player of the year, is averaging 16.1 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. Dru Gylten leads the team in assists with 3.6 a game.

One highlight for the Jacks this season has been the return of Paige Meyer, who suffered a knee injury late last season. She made her return Dec. 20 against Oral Roberts and has since been a key piece to SDSU’s success.

Against Denver, she scored 16 points off the bench to go along with Haleigh Timmer’s season-high 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting.

In that game, the Jackrabbits held off a third-quarter rally to beat the Pioneers by 10 to close out the first half of their conference schedule. With nine games to go, the Jackrabbits hope to keep their momentum as they get closer to the end of the regular season.

“Traditionally our second halves have been pretty good for us,” Johnston said. “I think we’re a team that does a good job of making adjustments and trying to figure out what worked and didn’t work from the first time around. So we’re going to work hard on that again as we start the second round of games this week.”