SDSU hopes for eighth trip to the NCAA Tournament

For the first time since the 2010-11 season, there is a regular season champion of the Summit League other than South Dakota State or South Dakota. Western Illinois ended the season winning eight of their last 10 games, to claim the 2016-2017 regular season title. 

Another impressive statistic about this year’s Summit League Tournament is that the Jacks are going for their seventh Summit League Tournament title in the last eight years. The only other team to win in that stretch was USD in 2013-14, when they beat SDSU in the second round, then later defeated Denver to win the title.

SDSU (12-4 in Summit) earned the No. 3 seed this year, with pre-season Summit League Player of the Year Macy Miller out for the season. That means they’ll take on No. 6 seed Oral Roberts (7-9 in Summit) in the quarterfinals of the tournament.

The Jacks have to win three games in three days to win the Summit and get a bid to the NCAA Tournament. The road to the tournament starts 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center in Sioux Falls.

Both times the teams met this season the Jacks came away with victory margins of at least 20 points. It might be easy to overlook a team like that, but SDSU head coach Aaron Johnston isn’t thinking that way.

“It’s going to be a very different Oral Roberts team,” Johnston said. “We caught them at an off time, when they had key players out with injuries, and we played very well. It’s also going to be the Summit League Tournament, no one really has an off-day at the Summit because everyone is bringing their ‘A’ game all the time.”

Johnston said he wanted his seniors and leaders at this time of the year to elevate their games. Senior guard Kerri Young had dominant performances both times against Oral Roberts and will be playing in her fourth and final Summit League Tournament.

The three seniors on the team have won the tournament every year, except their first year at SDSU. They know what it takes to win, and not overlook any one game.

“I don’t think our team will overlook Oral Roberts at all,” Young said. “Us seniors will be looking to give it all we have, since it will be our last time playing in the Summit League Tournament. We need to take each day at a time. We obviously want to get back to the NCAA Tournament, but we need to take care of business in Sioux Falls first.”

Senior center Clarissa Ober and junior forward Ellie Thompson will be a huge part of the Oral Roberts game, Johnston said. 

“Oral Roberts is very good inside, we need our guards on the perimeters to throw it into the post, and also be able to get the kick out and score from the perimeter,” Johnston said.

With three Summit League Tournament Championships on her resume, Ober knows how different tournament play is from the regular season. The Jacks tallied 54 points in the paint the last time SDSU played Oral Roberts at home, Feb. 8, in large part to the post’s play down low, but it could be a completely different ball game Sunday.

“We need to go out and focus on one game at a time,” Ober said. “Just because we beat them both times during the season doesn’t mean we are guaranteed to win Sunday. Johnston has emphasized getting the ball within 10-15 feet from the basket, so we have tried to make that a big part of our game.”

If the Jacks duplicate their success against the Golden Eagles, they will play at 2:30 p.m. Monday against the winner of the IUPUI/NDSU game. SDSU swept NDSU and split with IUPUI during the season. 

The quarterfinal and semifinal tournament games will be broadcasted on Midco Sports Network and WatchESPN.com. The championship game will be played at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday and will be on ESPNU and WatchESPN.com.