Jackrabbits fight adversity to reach final

Spencer Chase

For the fourth season in a row, the SDSU women’s basketball team will be in the Summit League championship game. They paid an unwanted price in the process.

After two big runs, the Jackrabbits advanced to the Summit League final in a 79-54 victory over IUPUI, but at the expense of Steph Paluch, who went down with a knee injury late in the first half.

The Jags executed well on both ends of the floor in the first half, but the Jacks erupted on a 10-3 run in the last 4:22 of the first half, after the injury to Paluch. SDSU (23-8) picked up where they left off at the start of the second half, with Jill Young leading SDSU to a 15-3 run by hitting three three-pointers for her first points of the game.

“In the first half, I think it’s safe to say that we struggled a little bit offensively. IUPUI is playing really well right now and we knew that they would be a good team. In the second half, we just came out and we were a lot more aggressive and got some looks in transition.

While the Jackrabbits were able to overcome the adversity of the first half to outscore IUPUI (13-19) by 15 points in the second half, the Jacks will have to find a way to replace their Paluch, who had been a starting guard for 31 games this season. SDSU head coach Aaron Johnston said that Paluch will be evaluated at a later date, but she is out for the season.

“Everybody can always find a way to get another player on the floor. We could look at Gabby, we could look at Tara (Heiser), and we would all be really comfortable with either of those two,” Johnston said, visibly shaken talking about losing Paluch. “You lose the person, the emotion of it more than anything else. You can always game plan, but it’s sad to lose someone that’s been out there all along not be able to be there for such a big game tomorrow. That’s really the disappointment.”

SDSU had four players reach double-digits in the win, led by Young with 14 points, all coming in the second half and eight rebounds, followed by Jennie Sunnarborg with 13 points, and Ashley Eide and Gabby Boever, both with 12.

SDSU meets the winner of Missouri-Kansas City and Western Illinois on Tuesday, both teams the Jackrabbits have swept this season. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU and will start at 3 p.m. in the Sioux Falls Arena.

With Paluch’s injury, the Jackrabbits will now rely on their depth to carry them to a potential Summit League championship and NCAA tournament berth. While the Jacks are known in the conference for having a deep rotation, the bench that outscored the IUPUI bench 32-6 will now play an even bigger role in the Jackrabbits’ success.

“The fact that we keep moving forward is a testament to how many good players we have on the team. We’re really deep. We always have been, and I think that’s an important part of why we always have success.” Johnston said.

UPDATE: Jackrabbits will play UMKC on Tuesday at 3 p.m. in Sioux Falls for the conference title.