By AUSTIN HAMM Sports Editor

SDSU Women’s Basketball team tops USD to win sixth Summit League Title,  advances to NCAA tournament  to face Oregon State

Lead by a couple of freshmen in their first Summit League Tournament, South Dakota State opened the game on a tear, using a 29-6 run in the first half to beat the rival Coyotes of the University of South Dakota, 72-57, and lock up the Summit League title and the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

 “It’s a special day, a special win for our program,” SDSU head coach Aaron Johnston said.  “I’m really happy for these players, and really proud of the way we played defense these last few days and that’s just a testament to how much work they’ve put in these last few months.”

 Freshmen Macy Miller and Ellie Thompson lead the Jacks with 19 and 18 points respectively, en route to becoming All-Tournament team selections. Joining them on the All-Tournament team was senior Megan Waytashek, who finished her final Summit League Tournament game with seven points and a team high five assists.

 Waytashek said that the team was “very driven” to win the tournament this year after their loss last year. “It was just really great to win with this group of girls,” Waytashek said. “Everybody just played so hard, it was really fun.”

 The championship seemed over early in the game, as the Rabbits parlayed offense into defense, holding the Coyotes to four made field goals in the first half while running the lead all the way to 31-9 at one point and a 37-19 halftime lead.

The second half consisted mostly of keeping the Coyotes at arms length and nursing the lead.

 “I thought defensively we played really well, there’s no question about it, but USD also missed some shots they’re accustomed to making. When those things happen to a team it’s hard to dig yourself out of it,” Johnston said. “From our standpoint, we never felt comfortable. They’ve got some good players.”

 Tournament MVP Nicole Seekamp of USD, after scoring just 4 points in the first half on 0-6 shooting, did her best to pull the Coyotes within striking distance as she went seven for nine for 17 points in the second half to give her a game-high 21.

 “Nicole Seekamp is a special player,” Johnston said. “She’s really like no other player in our league.”

The auto-bid for the Rabbits turned into a 14-seed in the Spokane, Wash. region in the NCAA tournament, setting up a matchup with the 3-seed Oregon State Beavers. The game will be on Friday, March 20, at Gill Coliseum in Corvallis, Ore.

Tip-off is scheduled for 4 p.m. CT, 2 p.m. PT.

 No. 10 ranked Oregon State (26-4, 16-2 Pacific-12 Conference) advanced to the NCAA tournament after claiming the Pac-12 Tournament title.

 “I’ve seen them play a few times this year,” Johnston said. “They run a lot of very good offensive sets. They mirror our team in that they use the three-point line a bit. They also mirror our team in that they have a really good point guard, a long, really athletic player that can make a lot of plays.”

 Led by Pac-12 Coach of the Year Scott Ruek, the Beavers boast unanimous conference Defensive Player of the Year Ruth Hamblin, a 6-foot-6 junior center who was also named the overall Player of the Year by the media, as well as All-Pac-12 players in guards Jamie Weiner and Sydney Weise.

 If the Beavers themselves don’t pose enough of a challenge, Gill Coliseum is located on OSU’s campus, making this round-of-64 matchup a veritable road game for the Jackrabbits.

The winner advances to face the winner of No. 6 George Washington and No. 11 Gonzaga.