Jacks shoot for redemption

NATE GIESE Assistant Sports Editor

Looking past an opponent is never a good thing. That’s the challenge the South Dakota State University women’s basketball team faces this week with a rematch against University South Dakota slated for Saturday.

Currently tied for first in the Summit League standings, the winner of that game at the DakotaDome will have the inside edge to win the regular season title. The last two NCAA Tournament representatives from the conference, the only two programs to win regular season titles over the past five years and the rivalry all rolled into one makes this the game of the week.

But first, the Jackrabbits must take care of Denver University in what will be SDSU’s final home game of the season Thursday.

“We can’t look past the Denver game and look at the USD game,” said junior wing Kerri Young. “What’s in front of us now is the Denver game and we’ll take care of that then focus on the USD game.”

Inside the team, it’s easier to say that. In order to get to Saturday, SDSU must play Thursday. Outside of the team, though, it’s easy to look past the Pioneers.

While the Jacks (21-4, 11-1 in Summit League play) sit tied with the Coyotes for first place, Denver enters Thursday’s contest at Frost Arena riding a nine-game losing streak, a 4-22 overall record and 2-11 record in Summit League play. SDSU beat the Pioneers by 37 in their first meeting of the season in Denver on New Years Day.

“We haven’t played them since our first (league) game,” Young said. “I’m sure they’re a new team, or a different team since the first time we played them. We’ll just have to be ready for them.”

Saturday’s game is the focus, though. Combined, the Jacks and Coyotes have won their last 17 games, both winning streaks running from their Jan. 17 meeting in Frost Arena. With the winner of the game having the best shot to win the regular season title and the top seed in the Summit League tournament, important doesn’t begin to describe the contest.

Though just a freshman, Madison Guebert not only understands the importance of Saturday but also the importance of staying focused.

“Obviously it’s USD, so that game is always going to be one of the biggest games of the year. That’s just how it is,” Guebert said. “It’s a big game in terms of rivalry and we lost to them the first time. I would definitely say it’s one of the biggest games of the year, but we can’t get too wrapped up in that thought because we obviously have to take care of Denver first.”

The Jacks have been dominating opponents since that first meeting, winning each of their last six games by 12 points or more, including a 34-point route against North Dakota State two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, the Coyotes have been doing just as much damage, winning each of their last five games by 15 points or more, including a 46-point drubbing of the same Denver squad SDSU faces prior to Saturday’s collision.

Things have changed in the last month, though. Both teams may be dominating the competition, but the Jacks know where they struggled in the first meeting.

“After the last game, we talked a lot about how we played to not mess up rather than playing to win, so I think that’s something we really need to focus on in this game,” Young said.

Young also said another key aspect to getting the win on Saturday will be by “locking up” USD’s star scorer Nicole Seekamp.

A senior from Australia, Seekamp is third in the conference in scoring, averaging 16.3 points per game, while leading the Summit League with 6.3 assists per contests. Seekamp shoots over 40 percent from three as well, making her a versatile threat the Jacks have had trouble stopping.

Seekamp went for 23 points in the first meeting between USD and SDSU, including the game-winning shot in the final minute to finish off the game for the Coyotes. In 10 games against SDSU, Seekamp averages just under 17 points per meeting, making her one to watch in this game.

Though the Jacks aren’t looking past Denver on Thursday, Saturday presents an opportunity for retribution and a chance to secure the regular season championship.

“We’ve just gotta go out there and play like we’ve been playing this whole season and just have confidence,” Young said, “and know that we can get the job done and know that we are the best team in the Summit League.”