Women’s basketball to make sixth women’s NCAA appearance

The South Dakota State University women’s basketball team is set to return to the big dance. They will take on the No. 3 seed in the Spokane, Wash. region, the Oregon State University Beavers on Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. Central Time. The Jacks enter the NCAA Tournament as the No. 14 seed in the Spokane, Wash. region.

The Beavers are making their second straight NCAA Tourney appearance as this year’s Pacific-12 Conference’s regular season champions. Oregon State head coach Scott Rueck, Pac-12 Coach of the Year, sees some differences in this year’s team and their route to the NCAA.

“This year it’s been new for our program, we’ve been the underdog for four straight years and we saw a shift in that a year ago, … but this year we’ve been the favorite all year. We just have got to play possession by possession,” Rueck said.

Unlike the Beavers, who are newer to the NCAA Tournament, the Jackrabbits are making their sixth appearance and their fourth in the last five seasons. SDSU head coach Aaron Johnston notes many differences between his team’s experiences in the tournament.

“It’s not how we prepare or practice but logistics, timing, just little nuisances that you never have with a regular season game. But I think those things can throw a big wrench or distraction into a team’s preparation. Practice today, for instance is going to have a little more chaos surrounding it versus just a normal practice in Frost,” Johnston said. “I think having been in a tournament, having won a game, having lost a few times, having had some other post season experience in the WNIT and having had some success, all those things give us a chance to play well.”

Johnston said that his team is going to have to find ways to score against a lengthy OSU team. That length will pose a threat not at the basket in the form of blocked shots but also by disrupting the passing lanes around the perimeter. One major threat, in terms of length, will be the Beavers’ junior center Ruth Hamblin. Hamblin stands 6-foot-6, and is four inches taller than SDSU’s tallest player at 6-foot-2. SDSU senior Megan Waytashek said having played against Oral Roberts University’s 6-foot-7 center has prepared the Jacks for their match-up with Hamblin.

“She’s (Hamblin) a great player, watching film on her, but we’ve played players like that in the past. In our league we have a 6-7 post. We’ve had that match-up and prepared for that so it’s definitely going to help us tomorrow,” Waytashek said.

Rueck said South Dakota State does a lot of things well. He specifically mentioned that he enjoys the way the Jacks rebound and box out as well as how good the are on help defense.

“I love the way they rebound…. they are so disciplined. That is an area we are going to have to be really good in, this is going to have to be one of our best rebounding games of the year,” Rueck said. “They execute so well offensively so you relax for one second and they take advantage of it… This needs to be a great defensive performance for us and still even if you defend them well, they have player that can hit shots. They’ve got such a strong spirit. We know it’s going to be a 40-minute game and we’re going to get everything they’ve got…. that never changes with this team (SDSU).”

The Jacks, who won the Summit League Tournament, come into the match-up with a record of 23-8, while the Beavers, who lost in the first round of the Pac-12 Conference Tournament, hold a 26-4 mark coming into Friday game inside Gill Coliseum on the Oregon State University campus.

“It’s definitely a little different but at the same time it has this very official feel like there’s all these rules and stuff you can’t do so that’s kind of interesting. It makes it feel like an away game even though we’re very comfortable we’re at home so it’s cool,” Hamblin said about host the tournament at OSU.

The No. 3 seed versus No. 14 seed match-up has not faired well for any No. 14 seeds in the Women’s NCAA Championship Tournament as the No. 3 seeds hold an 84-0 record in these match-ups. SDSU senior Mariah Clarin sees that statistic as motivation for the Jacks.

“I think it’s a lot of motivation; we look to break new records and start a new trend. I think its just pure motivation,” Clarin said.

The game can be seen on ESPN3 at 4 p.m. central time and the winner will advance to Sunday and play the winner of the Gonzaga/George Washington game.