Clock strikes twelve on Cinderella story

Jacks drop heartbreaker at Stanford, ending NCAA run

Eight seconds. One basket. One stop. That’s how close the South Dakota State women’s basketball team came from making history. 

Nothing ever comes easy in the NCAA Tournament, but the Jackrabbits had everything going for them in the second half of their second round meeting with Stanford. With an eight-point lead and just over four minutes to play, SDSU had the momentum. Their offense was clicking, their defense was stifling and the score was in their favor. 

But all good things must come to an end. After being able to hold off Miami’s rally in the first round, the Jacks were unable to replicate that against the Cardinal, getting outscored 11-3 down the stretch and ultimately losing the lead with just eight seconds to go. 

Stanford’s Lilli Thompson drove into the lane against SDSU senior Gabrielle Boever, hitting a difficult layup, earning the foul call and knocking down the game-winning free throw. The Jacks had two chances to win the game late, but sophomore Macy Miller’s shot attempt was blocked and Kerri Young’s shot clanked off the backboard to the dismay of the SDSU faithful, giving the Cardinal a 66-65.  

“We had a little breakdown there,” Miller said of the deciding play. “We let her drive in and we got kind of a bad foul there and she made an and-one. Give credit to her, she made a great layup and free throw that won them the game.”

What had looked like history in the making became another footnote in an otherwise great season for the Jacks. 

This was the seventh time in eight tries the Jackrabbits have made it to the NCAA Tournament, the second time they earned a victory in that tournament and the closest the program has come to leaving its mark on history. A win would’ve made SDSU just the fourth No. 12 seed ever to make the Sweet 16. What could’ve been makes the losing a bit harder sometimes, though. 

“Sometimes shared experiences punch you right in the gut,” head coach Aaron Johnston said after the loss. 

Saturday’s win over the No. 19 Hurricanes marked the second win over a team ranked in the top 25 polls for the Jackrabbits this season, the most wins over nationally ranked opponents in any season in the Division I era. Stanford was the fifth nationally ranked opponent for SDSU, also program Division I record. 

With the season over, the Jacks can only look to move forward. Unlike last season, there won’t be a lot of need to revamp the roster. 

Of the eight regular rotation players, six of them return, including all five starters. Young and reigning Summit League Defensive Player of the Year Clarissa Ober  will both enter their season as seniors. Miller, a first team all-conference award winner and the conference tournament’s Most Valuable Player, and Ellie Thompson, a second team all-conference honoree, each enter their junior years. Madison Guebert, the reigning Summit League Freshman of the Year, will just be a sophomore. 

As for the bench, Alexis Alexander will enter her junior season while Sydney Palmer and Jessica Mieras, both of whom saw action throughout the season, will be sophomores. 

Perhaps the biggest additions to the Jacks next season is already on the team. Tonoia Wade, a 6-foot  forward transfer from St. John’s University, sat out the 2015-16 season due to NCAA transfer rules. A four-star recruit out of high school, Wade’s numbers were modest (1.4 points, 1.7 rebounds per game averages in 27 games), but her addition to the rotation should bolster the size and depth behind Ober and Thompson. 

Unfortunately, not everybody is back for the Jacks. Boever, a sixth-year season, and Chloe Cornemann, a fourth-year senior, have played their final games in a Jackrabbit uniforms. Boever was part of five different NCAA Tournament appearances while Cornemann finished her career with three. 

But for the rest of the team, the future is bright, the foundation has been set and the system is in place. SDSU will not be defined by one moment in time or one play in California, but by how they move on from there.